Multiplayer Madness

So I was recently linked to a youtube video, a tragic one for those of us who are quite attached to our consoles: Asian Girlfriend Destroys PS3.  After watching the video, I realised two things: firstly, the guy probably deserved what he got; secondly, there is a whole slew of similar videos in the related tab:  Hot Chick Smashes Boyfriends XBox 360 Console, Psycho Girlfriend Smashes XBox and they got me thinking about videos like Girlfriend Deletes WOW Characters.

Really there is no need to watch any of these videos, anyone can get the gist of them from their names. And it pointed out to me one of the intrinsic issues that I have with multiplayer games, and one of the main reasons why I don’t play them: there’s no pause button. In a single-player game, the whole thing is being run by you. If something important comes up, a friend pops around, or the kettle is boiled then it’s no issue to stop the game and do whatever it is that needs to be done: make a cup of tea, converse with your friend, do that vacuuming you said you’d do 3 days ago. This could mean pausing the game, or I can even switch my console off and know that I can always resume the story at the last checkpoint. Multiplayer games don’t have that luxury.

One of the things it’s easy to forget when my career is based around video games is that consumers have this thing called Real Life as well. And frankly, that’s more important to them than my game is – whether they treat it that way or not. I recently had a long discussion about the ethics of games like World of Warcraft that seem to deliberately offer incentives for remaining in the game (unless you’re in Korea, where they boot you out every so often to eat food). My argument at the time was that developers try to make their game as fun as possible, which can inadvertedly lead to mechanics not dissimilar to those of poker/slot machines and create an addictive experience. What I forgot at the time was the staying power intrinsic in being online with other people. See, most people are FOMO’s.

FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out, and it happens to essentially anyone who’s leaving a situation where everyone else is going to stay. In a singleplayer game this feeling doesn’t often come up, because I can always go back and do that thing, or play through the game again differently. In multiplayer there’s a constant FOMO – I could miss out on experience points, sweet drops, that stupid thing Leroy did, killing that annoying guy (boom, headshot) etc. And now that there’s plans to punish rage-quitters there’s actually negative reinforcement around the idea of leaving. But how can you tell the difference between a rage-quitter and a guy who wants a cup of tea with his girlfriend?

This is I suppose a post of solidarity with the other bloggers out there who are criticising game length as a measurement of quality: Mutliplayer games are repetitive and essentially as long as the player’s attention span is. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good, just that people don’t want to leave them. Give me a 6-hr long epic single-player over a multiplayer mode any day of the week.

Other blogs on Game Length:

Class Act Post-mortem

As promised, here’s the breakdown of what went right and what went wrong with the game Class Act: made by myself and 3 QANTM graduates during Game Jam Sydney.
Note that the entire game was conceptualized, designed and created over a very short (48hrs) time-frame; this alone makes it one of the most impressive projects I’ve been a part of. A lot of what I mention will be specific to how we tracked and used the time given to us, and may not be applicable to projects with less strictly enforced timeframes.

What went right:

The most fun section to answer!

  1. We finished it! Not every team involved in the jam managed to achieve that.
  2. We adopted an iterative development strategy. As the project came together we made an effort to force ourselves to find points where we could stop our work, play the latest version, then go into a separate room and decide what was missing and what was needed to make it closer to/a better game. It was sort of like planning sprints in Scrum, but without any formal management framework.
  3. Art. Our artist was experienced in 3D modelling and had never worked with pixel art or sprites at all. Which makes the graphics that he produced even more incredible. They were expertly crafted, pixel perfect, and had exactly the look and feel we were going for. Our artist single-handedly gave our game an 80’s reference, which was one of the requirements.

What went wrong:

Things to learn from

  1. Bad choice of tools. We ended up using what the majority of us were used to, which was Allegro: a 2D graphics library not far off from GDI. It did blitting and basic image loading and nothing else. Because of this we wasted a lot of time getting something on screen, and an epic amount of time writing our own movement, collision and animation code. We were trapped doing 2D because we weren’t all familiar with a single 3D framework and despite our artist doing some amazing pixel art, he would have been much happier making models. Because of the time taken to work with Allegro, we never even had time to polish.
  2. No polish. Yeah. Lack of time or code design for creating gameplay variables that could be tweaked to improve the gameplay. Little things like a visible view area for the teacher, or tweaking the reaction times of teachers/students would have upped the fun level if we’d had the time or the ability to tweak them in-game and find the perfect value. Bringing along a reusable console class for providing all that functionality would have made a lot of difference in the end product
  3. Time management. For all of us this was our first game jam event, and most of us had issues with managing our sleep and our work. Each of us had different issues: for some the sleep was ineffective, for others there wasn’t enough and they were fading during the last minute cram at the end. I don’t think it’s a common thing for many developers to know the limits of their bodies, or be familiar with their sleep cycles etc.; it’s the kind of knowledge that proves useful in a weekend game challenge though.

There was lots that went right, and lots of stuff to learn from, and I look forward to putting it all to good use as soon as the next Game Jam is announced!

For those interested in having a play, the files for Class Act can be downloaded from the Global Game Jam website here

Startup woes

I never would have described myself as a ‘busy guy’, but since signing up to the Game Design Concepts course online I’ve been finding myself pressed for time to get any of the work done. Now while catching up over the weekend is a tried-and-true method I used many-a-time during my degree at university, we all know that we never get as much done as we planned to. It’s the weekend after-all: easy to make that excuse :)

So I started looking over my time to see where all of it was going. 7 hours a day, 35 hrs a week total on work (I take an hour lunch-break doing anything but work, so I’m not counting that as ‘work time’). 4 hrs a week Swing dancing classes, plus or minus an hour of social dancing at the end of classes. 2hrs a week of Yoga. 8-9 hrs a week on public transport! What? I spend more time on trains and buses than I do in a day at work?!

Yes folks, it seems that I’ve been letting a whole lotta time go to waste waiting for that train to arrive, that bus to appear (if it ever does), or the next stop to be mine. And the kicker iss – I’m not even doing anything interesting in that time. If I haven’t got a book, or I don’t feel like reading, I find myself just staring blankly out the window. Surely a man with 2 laptops can find a better use of this time, no?

And this leads me to the essence of this blag-post/net-whine: computers take too long to start up! Packing and unoacking my laptop from my bag every time I get on the bus/train, get off, or change between means the once I’m seated I have to wait another 30secs to a minute just to get back in to whatever I was doing again. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can easily be the difference between trying to fit 5mins of work into that 5min train trip, or (as I have this week) lugging a heavy laptop around with me and not actually turning it on that day AT ALL!

Disabling the hibernate options and/or putting the computer to sleep in these situations seemed like a good idea – but I’m rapidly finding that a sleeping or active computer inside a safety sleeve inside a bag feels pretty warm to the touch once it comes back out again. I’m paranoid that I’ll forget I’ve left it on and pull it out at the end of the day with heat damage all over the screen.

But until scientists hurry up and get memristors out there – it looks like this is the best solution for now. Happy overheating!!