Archive for May, 2006

enabling ‘tactical’ choices is good game design

When it comes down to it, games are about meaningful decisions. Providing the player with the opportunity to make decisions or choices is the key to good design. Of course, lots of other factors needs considering, as long as they don't distract you from the main issue – the provision of choice to the player(s).

For a decision to be meaningful, there has to be a trade off between risk and reward. What is the player putting on the line for what kind of reward? Is it a real choice, can the player take different approaches either with different risks associated or have different reward outcomes.

For a decision to be made, there has to be time to consider the options or evaluate the information available. In most games there are many micro decisions made about player movement, actions or weapon selection. These micro decisions are important and tend to used to create a skill ramp, they are unlikely to create a good satisfying experience. Long term or strategic decisions can be very satisfying, but tend to be distanced from the 'action' and most players fail to associate the reward with the choice. In the middle are 'tactical' choices, they can be made quickly and in the action with the outcome linked closely to the input. It is these moment by moment 'tactical' decisions that have the greatest lasting impact on the players, and are the choices that the designer needs to focus on most.

For more on decisions in design, see one of the best articles on game design I have read, Greg Costikyan's article 'I have no words & I must design'.

Providing an environment that enables 'tactical' choices minute by minute in a game is crucial and very much overlooked in favor of setting/fiction/narrative/camera and mirco-player controls.

Choice is closely followed by meaningful player rewards (another time)


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‘anxieties’ not risk logs & status reports

I have never worked on or seen a project that has an effective risk management practice. I have read a lot of theory, seen a lot of people attempt ‘theory’ in practice and have tried any number of risk/issue log approaches. I have heard a lot of project managers say that they have risk management in place, IMO they are wrong as the process is not effective.

Effective risk management is a mind set for the team, much more than a process that can be applied. It can be promoted and the team educated, but it has to grow and take root throughout the development team.

Weekly or projects status reports… a great waste of time for all involved.

In the project that I am working on at the moment, we are using a simple weekly process that was created to replace both the status report and the risk log. Each project manager spend ~30 minutes to write down everything that they are anxious about. By focusing on anxiety, we cover all aspects of the project and a wide range of subjects. Each manager’s perspective brings different things out, and tends to open out communication and issues of understanding more effectively than risk analysis.

Every anxiety listed, should have actions that the project manager will do to alleviate their own anxiety. The emphasis is on what they can do to deal with the anxiety and the underlying cause.

We have adopted a weather forecasting theme for these reports to help create a different feeling. A summary forecast at the top of the page indicating the likely conditions over the coming months. A few simple sentence, usually in the style of a weather forecast has proven to be more inciteful than any status report.

e.g. sunnypartialtwister

And each anxiety is rated in terms of severity of weather condition. We have found that weather forecasts are a simple and evocative way to characterise risks.

e.g. risk1 risk 3

The report is sent to a small distribution list, and not widely distributed to encourage honesty and openness about communication & relationships.

This process works well on our large but informal team, it may not work so well in a very formal environment.

Anxiety is to risk, what perception is to reality – it doesn’t matter if something is real or not, if it is perceived to be real… it may as well be real.

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getting kids to do their chores

We tried a number of way to get our 3 kids to consistently help out around the house, we struggled to get them to do their chores or worse created flash points and arguments.

For the last year we have been running a simple system, which has been working pretty well. With 3 kids & 5 busy lives, nothing will work perfectly, but this seems to be better than anything else we have tried.

As I am sure many people do, we link jobs done to small cash payments/allowance. The size of their monthly allowance is determined by the number of jobs done satisfactorily that month.

We have a list of jobs written out for each day of the week, I keep the list in excel, and print out a single page sheet for tracking the week’s chores. The job list stays the same week on week, so everyone starts to learn which jobs get done on a Monday or at the weekend etc.

As each job is completed and checked, it gets ticked off, and at the end of the week the total is added up. I keep a running score sheet, paying the allowance monthly.

We have agreed a definition between basic essentials (in our case; school clothes, basic clothes & books) and the extra, nice to have or individual treats that are up to them individually (games, sweets, music, branded or fashion clothes, trips etc). We pay for the basics, everything else is up to them. Everyone has to agree to this plan, and there has to be a reasonable definition of what is basic and what is extra.

Since starting the system we have added a few minor improvements;

• every day an additional tick can be gained for getting on with the jobs without needing to be nagged or continually reminded (and specifically not fighting about it)

• a bonus number of ticks can be gained for doing all of the jobs listed.

• adding an ‘ask if anything extra needs doing today?’ task, and allowing extra ticks to be added for these ad hoc chores.

• we apply a different multiplier per job to different kids, and change the rules of what is basic and what is extra with each kid. The expectation on an 8 year old to manage their finances is different to that of a 14 year old.

This system works pretty well for us, by linking cash to jobs/chores it is a little materialistic or too much like work, which might not fit for some people’s view of life or personal circumstances. I think it is a realistic message, as long as it is kept perspective, for all kids to learn from an early age. Family life should be based on shared responsibility and it should reflect the real world.


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