self-love

But Berkley, the shoes weren’t magical at all! It was all you, the whole time!

And so I’ve concluded that the root of all of my recent problems is self-doubt. Doubt in my ability to make games, doubt in my capacity to stay motivated and productive, doubt in where I’m headed. And it’s worn me out and worn me down to the point where I’m scratchy and despairing and bleak-minded a good portion of the time. And then, poor compartmentalizer that I am, these stormy feelings have bled into my interpersonal relationships, seeping out as little barbs and jabs and comments that ride the line of acceptable discourse. I feel bad so I go about making others feel bad. And that just won’t do.

Having had a good discussion with Andrew yesterday, in which all of this came to the surface and was examined, I feel loads better. Simply realizing that I had been neglecting my self-love, that I had been overlooking my promise and potential and all the good things I’ve already done that would set me up well for the future, brought about a colossal paradigm shift in me. In my design work, sure, I’ll stumble and I’ll idle and I’ll fall clean over many times, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s necessary and good that I do. It’s all part of the process of building a better me, and if I let that be transformed into self-pity and anxiety and anger I’m only undoing the work I’ve already done.

And suddenly, with that realization, I found myself enjoying playing games again! I played four titles for at least an hour each yesterday and came away feeling glad that I had. There’s a great deal of pleasure and inspiration to be had there, and I’d been overlooking it completely by obscuring it with the same tinted lens I’d been applying to myself.

Welcome back, berv.

i met you in the market

This year’s summer Steam sale is in its closing minutes, and I’ve managed to make it through with only three purchases: Starseed Pilgrim, Receiver, and Super House of Dead Ninjas. And of those, only the last was actually purchased through Steam; I bought the first two through the Humble Store, which was running parallel discounts for these games (a very good idea). Given the 95/5 revenue split of Humble games compared to the 70/30 of the Steam store, this makes a better deal for devs and an equivalent one for consumers, in that purchases of Steam-listed games usually come with a Steam key as well.

Steam is incredibly useful to me as a game consolidator, listing everything in one place with nothing (or very little) to transfer between computer installations. Ease of use. So I tend to favour it when given several purchase options, and as the transactional process is straightforward and smooth, it seems an obvious fit. And so it’s the de facto digital marketplace for millions. They’ve done a pretty good job with the massive market share they’ve carved out. The flip side of this coin, though, is that it’s easy to┬ánever look beyond it, to see the parallel offers that better support the developers. It’s more to ask of a consumer, definitely, to shop around, especially when there are no savings to be gained, but I think it’s well worth considering where your gaming dollars actually go. If you want more of a given developer’s work in the future, an extra 25% in revenue will almost certainly help them in keeping on.

Obviously, it’s counter to Steam’s best interests to promote these alternative marketplaces and even developers’ websites, where they can urge you towards one type of transaction over another. So, as good-intentioned as Steam tends to seem, I don’t see them encouraging these more direct consumer-developer relationships in the future. I hope, though, with the ever-growing presence of independent developers and the increasing identification of a single person or small team with a finished game product, that consumers might become more aware of the chain of production, publishing, and distribution, or at least think to check out a dev’s website rather than taking into consideration only the screenshots and videos listed on the Steam store. Not only does this open up more direct revenue options for devs, it also facilitates a closer, more personal relationship between developer and consumer. Rather than buying a boxed product displayed next to hundreds of others, you’ve taken that extra step and visited the dev’s personal boutique, carved out and shaped uniquely by them. Maybe they’ve got a forum or a community area or maybe you just find their Twitter handle and follow them there. Now you’ve got a connection to the devs beyond just their finished product. Maybe you can witness their creative process as they work on a new project, maybe they’re looking for testers, maybe you become the best of friends. Regardless, the opportunity to connect on a more meaningful level exists, and I wonder how we as a larger community might encourage this.

qualifying bout

I had the chance to run my Zoofights party game at a dinner party last night and am really pleased with how it went. It ran at a consistent and clippy pace and all the players were quick to jump enthusiastically into arguing the merits of one contender over another. And this was with 12 players! I’m proud of how well it scales up, though it still remains to be seen what the dynamic is like with a smaller group. A few questions based on last night’s experience:

  • Would visually indicating the various enhancements (presently they’re only textual) help or hinder the play? On one hand, it would make the game much more interesting to look at, which could make for a more exciting and vivid experience. On the other, though, it might constrain player imagination by providing explicit representations of the traits. It’s kind of cool to hear the variations in how different players interpret “wreathed in mystical flames.”
  • Would the game benefit from suggesting that whoever counts the votes up for a bout then briefly describe how the battle unfolded? I feel like that aspect of Zoofights is missing at present; players think about how the matchup might unfold but miss out on the ups and downs of an actual play-by-play. Tallying the votes, though usually climactic, is devoid of flavour and I wonder if there’s a smooth way to inject some of that back in. Would it be feasible to describe blow-by-blow combat with each revealed vote? Perhaps the tallier could tally in secret then narrate the fight?
  • Would an separate set of traits for the second round be better than just adding in another from the general pool? I kind of like that the draws at present are random, so that players don’t know what to expect (compared to Heartthrob, where you will always assign negative traits in the third draw). An additional benefit of this, in my eyes, is that you get wildly power-discrepant contenders. Gatling Gun + Laser Eyes + Can See Through Time vs. Tattooed face + Terrible Hygiene + Wants to Win Really Badly. I like that fight a lot. It’s completely unfair, it’s utterly ridiculous, and it tends to provoke sympathy for the underdog. I think it’s truer to the spirit of Zoofights, too.

A general observation, drawn from this game as well as the previous post’s dodgeball game: there’s something to be said for design that leaves the bulk of the work (be it physical or creative or anything else) up to the players. Players will always be able to dream up more than any one designer ever could on their own, and giving them the flexibility to innovate within a framework can lead to some very interesting developments in play. This is a space I’d definitely like to explore further. Simpler games with greater creative potential.

idea pool

I have a game for you!

To play it, you will need:

  • Eight players
  • Two dodgeballs
  • An empty civic paddling pool that looks like this when viewed from above, with the floor gently sloping inwards towards the center:

paddlin

Position two people in each of the outer quadrants. Each quadrant now contains a single team competing with all the others. The objective is to win all other players over to your team by hitting them with thrown balls.

  • Players may only throw from within their quadrant, but may enter the center rectangle to retrieve a ball.
  • At no time may players enter a quadrant that is not their own.
  • If a player hits a player from another team with a dodgeball, the hit player moves to the thrower’s quadrant and becomes a member of their team.
  • Standard dodgeball rules apply in that if a thrown ball is caught without a bounce by a member of an opposing team, the thrower is considered to have been hit.
  • If all but one player are on a single team, the lone player now has free run of all sections except that of the opposing team.
  • Play continues until all players are on one team.

It is fun and I recommend it.

<Now is there an easy analogue to encourage this sort of quick, spontaneous design in board or digital games? Working within hard constraints, such as physical boundaries, number of players, and available equipment, then iterating quickly to achieve a completed ruleset within minutes? Ha! I think I’m just chasing the more ready validation that comes with making much simpler games. Still, if I can construct a framework that puts the burden of creativity on the player… hmm.>

onward and ___ward

I had me a good muckabout with my new webspace this morning and am glad to report that I have a fairly good handle on what I can reasonably put together given my skillset. Customize a WordPress installation to suit my needs? Check. Make a special page or two with some neat HMTL/CSS tricks? Probably. Design visual elements? Heck no! So it’s likely to rely quite a bit on general colour blocking and typography, though I’m no master of those either.

But I’m wondering how I might best lay things out. I want to maintain this daily blog, but don’t necessarily want it to be the first thing someone sees. It’s more of an open diary than a focused devlog, so I’m not sure it would be a good anchor for my digital bastion of game-making. Maybe I could resign it to the sidelines and only post certain, more publicly interesting things to the front page. I kind of like the idea of choosing a post here and there to promote; though I’m glad to have written them regularly, many of these are not terribly fit for primetime. Or should I put my finished game catalogue front and centre? Haa; would that I had anything of note to populate it with. Perhaps in time.

Still, there’s an axis of potential change here, and I’d like to take advantage of it. What does it mean to transition from general journaller to actual, productive, developer of games? <Ah! What presumption!> Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps this little change in domain could precipitate a shift in the way I approach my work. Maybe I could use that.