I am you, you are me

After some time, let’s get finally back to some video game design!

Today I will write about identification. With this term, I mean the psychological condition when  players come up perceiving their game avatar as themselves. 

To create a favourable condition in order to allow identification with game characters is crucial for giving birth to an absorbing game. Many video games failed to become blockbusters because this fatal error. To design a successful game, it is necessary to make players somehow empathize with their avatars.

But, as anyone can easily presume, it’s not that easy creating this kind of situation.

First of all, a good game designer has to ask himself (or herself): what does make a player empathize with a fictional character?

Probably there isn’t a single answer, but many conditions are needed.

As I said some line above, players need to identify with their avatar. The more similar is the avatar to themself, the more likely this process takes place. But, of course it’s impossible to design a suitable game character for any player. For example, if I am a skinny boy, how am I supposed to empathize with a fat woman? Or vice versa. 

Many components can supply to this lacks, first of all admiration and physical/sexual attraction. If I would desire being like (or I experience desire toward) my avatar, I will probably get a step closer in identify myself in it. This reason is sufficient to make game developers design cool and sexy characters. 

A second way to allow this favourable condition is letting players create their own unique and personal game character; this way, of course, everyone is able to make exactly what they want. Of course, there are some limits, but anyone can come to a good compromise. 

Even though apparently technology and improved game graphics allow players to watch more fascinating and realistic characters, actually these risk to stop identification. The more the details, the lesser the chances. If we go back in time, players often empathized with poor detailed characters like Pac-Man, Super Mario and so on. Why? Exactly because they leaked many precise details! Anyone has a head and eat (Pac-Man); anyone is a human being (Super Mario). The fact that Mario wears mustaches is not important, since they are small in the game screen! 

So, today game developers have to face this duality: cool/sexy characters can actually be felt as cool (or, even worse, as cold, soulless). But a game figures are not only made of physical appearance, they also have a nature.

Nature is probably the trickiest facet. Again, avatar featuring precise and well-defined natures risk to be hard to empathize with. As an example to this I can quote Final Fantasy VIII  protagonist, Squall: many players weren’t able to identify with him given his antisocial nature. On the opposite, Final Fantasy VII protagonist, Cloud, was loved by almost any player; Cloud have a less detailed personality. 

A game series which strictly follows this general principle is Pokémon. In these games, the avatar never shows any signs of its nature, except for his love for peace,  justice and respect toward any form of life. These values are so big and global that anyone can recognize and agree with them. Furthermore, pokémon games protagonists represent common boys and girls, making identification even simpler.

It is interesting to mention Sonic, the Hedgehog. Notwithstanding the fact that he is not human, many teen players identified with him; why? Because his nature. Sonic is just like many teenager: somehow rebel, tireless, always on the move, unstoppable. Sonic has a strong, well-defined disposition, but a very common one. This fact shows how even a non-human game character can be attractive! 

A final note I would like to point out is the necessity to determine whether or not the protagonist has to speak. In my opinion, if we want players able to empathize with characters, we should not make avatars talk; since the avatar represents the user, we can not know what a player would make their character say. We should limit their dialogues to minimal choices, such as “yes and no”. The player has to be free of think and speak on their own through their virtual representation. In my opinion, this is vital for the success of many games.

As always, game designers have to take careful decisions and evaluate the right compromise between a strong storytelling and a strong sense of freedom. Creating a captivating fictional character is not easy. The doubts are many and errors hide beyond every corner… Probably only experience, intuition and good sense can lead to the right solution. And luck! Luck always matters!

Ok, that’s all for this time too!

Keep on following me! See you next time!

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My first time…

Creativity and inventiveness are typical qualities of any kid. They create toys, pictures, games and even imaginary friends. Usually, when they grow, this spark tends to fade and kids become boring adults.

But this is not today’s topic!

Let’s get back to kids’ invenitiveness!

Boys and girls are used to create their own games; these games are more or less structured  and follow a series of rules, but they always tend to be short-lived. It depends on children’s very nature, which is fast, ever changing and warm-blooded. It is uncommon that kids realize something that may last a decent quantity of time. A reason for this might also be found in the structural deficiency of their creations, that are lacking rule here and a detail there.

It is possible that the following experience that I am going to describe you goes back on this promise, for the reason that it was developed on a tested and steady base. I am writing about my very first experience of game design: customization and improvement of world famous tabletop game Monopoly.

I was probably twelve. At the time I was a passionate Monopoly fan and used to play it quite often. Tired of it lacks, predictability and small board, I decided to modify it and make it bigger, better and with more opportunities. I thus created MonopolCity! Be aware that the quality of the materials of which the product was made were obviously poor: it was created by a teen with just some cartons, pens, paper and so on! Since I am Italian, I used as a base the Italian version of the game.

MonopolCity begins where the classic Monopoly arrives. First of all I widened the board, adding new squares and areas. The board became almost twice its original dimension. 

To fill the new squares, new contract and locations were needed, besides the original ones. 

Since it was necessary to maintain a balance, some “forced tax” squares were added, such as the church (where the player had to make an offer), the gas station (where refueling the car) and so on. The bigger add to the game rules were the bus stops and their interactivity.

Each long side of the board contained 2 bus lines, North and South, each featuring 2 bus stops. If a player managed to halt on the first bus stop of that side, he had the chance to take the bus and skip most of the squares of that end of the board (potentially saving himself from unwanted expenses). The player had to pay a fee in order to use the bus; the bank, or the player who held the bus stop contract, cashed in the money for ticket and the game kept on going on. Train Stations gained the same property: the players could take a train from a station to the next one, in order to save their butt! (By the way, do you never wondered what function had e train station without trains?).

These are the rules for a 2 player game.

I declare myself satisfied of this work! A first, unexpected, strike in the game design world! Perhaps the game could be customized further, for example giving to each marker a unique, minor ability/effect or something like that…

Ok, that should be all for now! See you soon!

P.S.: I think it is funny to mention that my original Monopoly game belonged to my father so, probably, came from the Fifties or, at the most, Sixties! 

No, pointless to ask, it did’t feature Ron Howard!

A Game of Toners

During the centuries and millenniums the people’s tastes changed along with their needs and possibilities.

With them, art evolved too.

First came music, than song (and poetry). Carving and painting followed as soon as men and women had time and food enough to be have some spare time. As time passed, artists became more and more famous and developed new form of arts and entertainment such as drama and theatre.

Many century later, from painting a new branch was born, photography, while from theatre sprouted movies.

At first, they put people at loss for a moment… someone thought that cameras stole souls… (well, actually nobody is able to demonstrate the opposite) but after this dismay, those new arts were successful, especially thanks to their easy approachability.

More than a century passed and a new media was created: video games.

Now, after decades from the first video game ever realized, some people is starting to argue regarding the appropriateness of  adding a new Muse to the original nine.

During the years, the game look is quite changed, from 

to 

The most controversial point of the discussion is the innate interactive property of video games; well, actually the very name represents a problem: some says “how can art be a game?”

As you could easily read on Wikipedia (but you probably won’t), a famous film critic, Roger Ebert, tried several times to explain why, in his opinion, a video game can not be considered art. I copy paste from our sweet Wiki:

To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

Of course this kind of assertion caused a strong turmoil in the gaming community and industry.

Even thought my point of view on the matter is not really that important, I think that the ever-increasing number of artists working in the game industry testify the growing recognition given to this media. Many professionals create games since…. since… lots of years! A proud Italian example is Fabio Corica, a game artist since the ’80.  Fabio is probably one of the most prolific Italian game professional.  In the picture you can see him while sculpting some sort of insectoid-alien head during a demonstration. held at latest Games Week, Milan, Italy.

During this event, mainly addressed to buyers and fans, I managed to meet some guy belonging to a group called Neoludica.

Neoludica is an association aiming at emphasizing the value of art within games. I’d like to quote their motto (which, I only read now, is really similar to what I already wrote):

Arte e gioco: in quante forme si può declinare questa relazione? L’arte è un gioco, diceva Duchamp, e i giochi sono arte. Videogames entry into Muses’ dance has further enriched this connection: videogames are art, and have made a significant influence on other arts: from cinema to literature, from music to visual arts. Neoludica ®Game Art Gallery vuole esplorare a fondo queste relazioni.

Translating the Italian: Art and game: how many shapes can this relation take? Art is a game, Duchamp used to say. […] Neoludica Game Art Gallery wants to fully explore these relationships.

Neoludica pursue the ambition of promoting and diffusing the value of art within games. Thanks to many seminars, meetings, conferences and publications it spreads its ideals.

During the already mentioned Games Week, the association organized an impressive art exhibition on Assassin’s Creed and games in general. 

For example, one of its latest works is “Art and Videogames”.

This book, containing wonderful pictures, features many artists and experts and offer the reader many points of view to let them form their own, very personal, ideas.

I suggest to give it a read! It’s worthwhile!

Well, regarding my point of view… As a designer I can’t agree more on the fact that games are art, even the oldest ones can be considered masterpieces!

See you soon! Next post will be on a classic of tabletop gaming world and my very first game design trial.

From Lucca with love

This post won’t be about game design, but it’ll be some kind of report of the  wonderful Lucca Comics & Games 2012, held from 1st to 4th November in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy.

It’s one of the most important event of its kind all over the world. Each year more than 150,000 visitors siege the small city and assault the stands looking for comics, cosplays, gadgets, games and, of course, videogames.

For 4 or 5 days a year, the old part of the city is literally transformed into a huge convention. If you take a stroll around you can easily greet pokèmon trainers,  

videogame characters,

super heroes (and super villains)

and many many bizarre individuals.

Sneaking inside this jungle of fan and shopping frenzy is amazing! A life long earning won’t suffice to buy all the wonderful items sold in the greatest European comics and games convention.

Lucca Comics & Games is so big that it lure tourists from all over the world, eager to see the many famous guests, to try previews of many games and take part to countless events.

I can list, for example, just a minimal bunch of these fantastic things of this year (respectively): Christopher Paolini (author of the blockbuster Eragon saga), Nintendo Wii U and the  Assassin’s Creed III Bunker Hill commemoration battle .

I myself was able to try the newest Nintendo baby born and its controller with New Super Mario for a few minutes!

If you love games and/or comics and/or the kind of things I mentioned, or you are just curious to see a city inhabited by thousands of fictional characters, I suggest to visit next year Lucca Comics & Games. As usual, it’ll have place around the first days of November! You won’t be disappointed.

I hope to see you next year too, sweet Midna…