Blog Archives

Ten New Year’s Game Dev Resolutions for 2018

As the Earth begins another journey ’round the Sun, it’s time for the annual tradition of resolving to accomplish a list of goals for improving one’s life. With this being a game development blog, here my list of career-related New Year’s resolutions that I have compiled for your reading pleasure but have no realistic expectations of actually accomplishing this year more than any previous year I’ve made such lists.

Here we go!

  1. Expand My Social Media Reach: Creating a brand for yourself has become an essential step in managing your career, and social media is a terrific way to build, craft and enhance your brand, as well as bring attention to your accomplishments and connect better with new and existing contacts.  Now, I’m very good at regularly posting to Twitter and am pretty good at writing a weekly blog update (although I’ll let you in on a secret — when I miss a week, I’ll often write that week’s blog later and then backdate it). However, I do need to take greater advantage of image-based ones like Snapchat and Instagram, because I hear that’s what all the kid’s use.
  2. Add Videos To My YouTube Channel: I started a YouTube channel a couple of years ago and began creating a series of videos about Gamification.  Unfortunately, my PC blew up and it took all the video I had recorded with it, along with my favorite video editing program.  What I need to do is bite the bullet and get a new computer (my MacBook Air is on its last legs too) and better recording equipment, because I’ve also been meaning to create a new series of Boy Scout Game Design Merit Badge videos.
  3. Spotlight More Student Work: Last year I began covering more of my student’s in my blog posts, as well as posting Facebook videos of their project presentations at the our monthly Los Angeles Film School Game Fair. However, I’d like to make these spotlights more of a formal element of the classwork to give them a broader audience for creating games.
  4. Attend More Game Industry Events: I manage to attend E3 and IndieCade every year, the Game Developers Conference about every two years, and the USC GamePipe Lab every semester, not to mention the International Game Developer Association events in which I participate, but there are many more venues in which I can meet more people, learn new things, and find inspiration.
  5. Speak at More Conferences:  Later this month I’ll be leading an ageism panel at Casual Connect, and in September I’ll be a guest at a The Prisoner convention to talk about the Apple II game I developed based on the show.  But that’s not enough.  Noah Falstein once told me that the way he got clients for his game design consulting business was by speaking at conferences, and if I want to increase my consulting business, I need to do the same.
  6. Play More Video Games. I’ve always found it difficult to find time for doing things by and for myself, so unless I’m doing specific research or have been asked by someone to play a video game with them, I have a hard time setting aside a dozen hours or so to play a video game just for enjoyment.  However, if I don’t do just that, I won’t be staying current in my field.  So, I just need a way to justify it — perhaps by writing game reviews.
  7. Play More Tabletop Games. I learned about game design from playing tabletop games throughout my childhood, and now I use tabletop games for teaching my students about game mechanics, since it is so much easier to “look under the hood” and create prototypes for tabletop games than it is with video games.  I do need to play a broader variety of these games, but fortunately, their social nature makes it a lot easier for me to play tabletop games than single-player video games.  I recently joined a Board Game Meet-Up in Hollywood that meets very frequently, and on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we played board games as a family after dinner.  Now with the holiday over, I need to make more opportunities to play games with my family.
  8. Read More Game Design Books: I rely heavily on Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop and Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses in my classroom, but there are so many other great game design books out there that give new perspectives and insights.  I am particularly looking forward to reading Mike Seller’s new book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach.
  9. Become more active: As a game developer and teacher, I tend to sit in front of my computer or my classroom all day long, but continuing to do so will eventually have a negative effect on my posture and health. Last year we got a dog that liked to take long walks, and so I got into the habit of walking him around the neighborhood every day.  Unfortunately, he became destructive when left alone while we were at work, and so we had to return him to the rescue shelter were we originally found him. However, I’ve kept in to the habit of taking an hour-long walk each morning, but I need to challenge my heart and muscles a bit more, and so I resolved to turn some of those walks into hikes in the hills around my home.
  10. Stop procrastinating: The biggest barrier that keeps most people from reaching their goals is the desire to do something fun instead of working hard. Once you get used to procrastinating it’s difficult to snap yourself out of it, so you’ll need to put in a lot of work to change this bad habit. Unfortunately, I put this one on my list every year, but somehow I never get around to addressing it.  Maybe this year, I will!

So, how about you?  What are some of the New Year’s Resolutions you recommend for game developers?




Game Design Behind The Fun Of Trick-Or-Treating

Halloween is just around the creepy corner, and I’ve been decorating the front lawn with cobwebs and tombstones, stockpiling candy to give out, and making sure my schedule is clear so that I can man the front door when the trick-or-treaters arrive. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, even more so than Christmas. Why is this, when Christmas has a much wider variety of traditions and much deeper meaning behind it? Since I enjoy games so much, I figure there must be a gaming explanation behind my love of Halloween.

Of course, the activity of trick-or-treating can be thought of a game with the goal of collecting the most (or better yet, your favorite, candy within a given amount of time (when your parents are tired and want to go home, or if you’re older, when homeowners are tired an stop giving out candy).  In this game, there are a couple. rules to follow: the activity does not start until dusk, and players are expected to were a costume.

It’s a simple game, so let’s dig a bit deeper into what makes it so appealing. In Jason Vandenbergh’s “Domains of Play” presentation at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, he described five distinct motivations for people to play games, and trick-or-treating delivers the goods on all five.

Novelty describes how much a game provides the player with imaginative, new, or unexpected experiences.  Trick-or-treating is an experience that is a bag full of novelty surprises: what other trick-or-treaters are wearing,what candy you will receive, and how the neighbors houses are decorated.  Players who have a strong affinity for the costumed element of the game may also engage in a bit of role-playing or even storytelling before, during, and after trick-or-treating.  Other players who like to make their own costumes also engage in constructive play during the costume’s design and fabrication.

Challenge is meaningful work that the player is happy to do in order to progress through the game.  The work that is involved in trick-or-treating involves several easy-to-achieve goals:

  • Traverse the neighborhood by walking down streets or other paths to reach neighbor’s doors.
  • Gain information about which neighbors are participating in the game by whether their front lights are on and have decorated their house with Halloween decorations.
  • Gain ownership of candy from the participating neighbors by knocking on their door and saying, “Trick or treat.”
  • Collect as much candy as you can in the time available before you have to return home or the neighbors stop giving out candy.
  • Make strategic decisions about investment of time and effort with respect to diminishing returns on candy as neighbors run out or decide to stop participating in the game.

Stimulation deals with the emotional element of play.  Halloween has traditionally been based on scary imagery, such as the Jack-o’-lanterns that were originally carried on All Hallows’ Eve to frighten evil spirits.  Houses that are particularly well-decorated with this scary imagery may provide some players with a strong feeling of emotional immersion as they brush aside cobwebs and steer their way clear of animated ghosts and monsters on the front porch. However, many costumes and masks worn by trick-or-treaters are intended to elicit laughter rather than fear.  And as nighttime approaches, many trick-or-treaters will feel excitement about the nighttime festivities.

Harmony reflects the rules of player-to-player interaction.  These rules govern not only the behavior between trick-or-treaters and participating neighbors but also influence the social behavior between individual players. Trick-or-treaters may choose to collaborate with each other as they rove in groups around the neighborhood, or they may later compete over how much candy each player has received.  Often trick-or-treaters may then engage in trading for their favorite candy with each other or their parents.

Threat is the real or perceived danger of loss.  It is not necessarily restricted to loss of the game, but possibly loss of dignity or even loss of health or life.  Unlike Christmas, Halloween is full of symbols of danger and death: skeletons and graveyards, monsters and serial killers.  The dark environment in which the game is played limits the player’s information about what lies around the corner, who is behind the door, or more seriously, when a car is driving down the street, and so there is both a perceived and real physical threat to the game (public service announcement: wear light or reflective costumes and carry a flashlight with you when you trick-or-treat).

It’s been said that Halloween has increased in popularity so much that it falls second to only Christmas in terms of total consumer retail spending, and I think the rise in popularity of Halloween has to do in part with the holiday’s satisfaction for our need to experience threat.  After all, Christmas satisfies our desire for novelty, challenge (decorating, shopping, and wrapping!), stimulation, and harmony.  However, Christmas is ideally a time of good cheer, whereas Halloween focuses on the spooky.

We tend to play it very safe today, especially with regard to our kids — we are mindful about what they eat, we regulate their activities, we try to know where they are — and as we have grown very protective and more risk-adverse as a society, Halloween is our opportunity to play a game that at least feels risky, donning a costume and role-play as someone more daring, venturing out into the darkness and cavorting among evil spirits, which allows us to exorcise the evil spirits within us, through play.