Posts Taged cartridge

Functional games

Games should be designed around specific functions.

I wish more game developers looked at it this way. I’m playing a game because I want it to do something for me. For example I’m playing this AAA racing game. I only play it because good car racing gets me into the zone. The game has excellent racing and car mechanics that get me into flow so I feel like I can kick ass and then the feeling lasts for a few hours and it transfers into other things I do later in the day: like coding games :).

Specifically racing cars does gets me in the zone. However the developer is clearly not aware that I’m playing the racing game just for the racing. Shocking?

Let’s look at what the game does:
* it makes me wait for the game to load for a few minutes
* it has to get me through pointless questions like “do you want autosave to be on?
* "do you want autosave to be really on?”
* “are you sure?
* forces me to pick a user account although I’m the only one playing
* the main menu is actually 3D and it has to load for a couple seconds
* there’s pointless mini cut scenes after whatever racing event you choose like I give a shit about the “story” or environment
* every menu option is artificially slowed down by some animation
* there’s an announcer which is there to help you but just annoys the crap out of you by saying stupid shit like "you need to catch up to win the race!” after you’ve crashed, tumbled and wrecked your car – thanks a lot for the advice and fuck you.

You get the point. Clearly all of these are just an effect of the designers showing off their After-Effects skills and an over-the-top budget. It has nothing to do with my purpose of playing the game. I “hired” the game for a specific task and everything that doesn’t get me there interfers with that and should be removed.

I’ve been playing games nowadays only to get into the state of flow.

Games serve me a specific function which is flow, but there are many other reasons we play games for example:
* we need to kill time for 15 minutes
* we want to forget for a minute about our problems
* we want to immerse in a different reality
* we want to feel adrenaline
* we want to feel nostalgia
* we want to be creative and build something
* we feel like kicking somebodies ass
* we want to learn a skill
* we want to experience a story
* we want to get into the zone
* we want to do something fun with friends

So this is a different way at looking at gaming. It’s not that you want to play an FPS or space game or a zombies game. This is thinking about what the game does for you. NOT what it is about and NOT what you can do in the game. Games serve you in some way. You play them because there is a task that they can do for you. So again:

What should the game do for you? – NOT what it is about.

Cartridge games serve a function. They are there for you. They accomplish a task for you:
You want to feel something specific – we got a game for you.
You want to LOL really hard – we got a game for you.
You want to have fun for exactly 12 minutes – we got a game for you.
You want to experience a full story but only got 3 minutes – we got a game for you.
You want to get into flow with a game specifically designed to do it as fast and reliantly as possible – we got a game for you.

We’re working on it so keep in touch and think what function could a game serve you specifically and hopefully we’ll have a game exactly for you.


Holy Flow

I think game design is equal part art and science. I have been looking for some time now, for an objective system to make good games. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a simple checklist we could go through, then add some of our own personality to it and voila, we have an amazing game?

Right now we have methods of doing it but they take a long time. We make many iterations, testing many ideas. Most ideas seem good in our heads but ultimately fail in reality. What if we had a system to check these ideas beforehand?

Let me introduce the concept of Flow. You might have heard of this mental state. It isn’t anything new and people have been applying it to game design already (for more info links at the bottom).

I’m reading a book called “The Rise of Superman” recently. It is a detailed chronicle about how extreme action & adventure sports men get into the flow state. About the enjoyment, the sense of purpose and the impossible they achieve in the Zone (another term for ‘flow’). The discoveries they make on Flow apply to us all. If you haven’t yet read the book (I highly recommend), trust me on this understanding, that Flow – is the Holy Grail we’ve been looking for.

Flow is why we play games.

How easy we get into the flow state and how long it lasts is a direct measurement of how good a game is.

This is amazing news because we have a goal by which we can objectively quantify how good a game is. You know a game is good when you experience all or any of the following:

* Extreme focus on a task.
* A sense of active control.
* Merging of action and awareness.
* Loss of self-awareness.
* Distortion of the experience of time.
* The experience of the task being the only necessary justification for continuing it.

If we steer gameplay experience so the players achieve these states, we are at home. Now here is how we do it. The following is a features list a game should have. Consider it a checklist on how to build a perfect game. Match and mix methods and mechanics described under each section.

[ ]  Risk
In order to ‘force’ the state in the player he needs a big enough motivation to concentrate. The best way to achieve this is how action & adventure athletes do it – they risk their life. We can do this with less extreme measures in games, yet still requiring attention.

Methods: loss, humiliation, exposure

a) perma death
b) unforgiving (lack of save games)
c) leaderboards
d) periodical gameplay (eg. once per round, once pre week/day)
e) loss of comfort/powerup (eg. big Mario becoming small again)

[ ]  Rich environment

Boredom kills flow. The environment must constantly be stimulating to the player to grab his attention at all times.

Methods: novelty, complexity, dangers and opportunity, anything can happen, awe, beauty

a) random generators
b) awe-inspiring visuals, sounds & effects
c) many different/new environments

[ ]  Deep embodiment
In order to lose touch with himself and his body the player must immerse himself totally into the game world. He must come to a state absent of emotion and self awareness where all he experiences is what the game is feeding him.

Methods: immersion, involving all senses, stimulating all senses


a) stimulating graphics
b) sounds
c) music
d) motion (eg. camera)
e) feel (control)
f) character is the player (eg. mute Gordon Freeman)
g) minimal or no HUD
h) smooth gameplay (reduce frustration, some is good but not ‘rage quit’)
(no interruptions! – interruptions cause 15 mins to get back into flow)

[ ]  Humility
Humility is a *binder*. It binds all the other aspects together. If the player grasps the game and is humble towards the mechanics he will open up and increase the flow of information, leading to a better game experience, better scores and better immersion.

Methods: intuitivness, focus, presence


a) intuitive controls
b) no explanations needed (no tutorials)
c) “NO BS”
d) perfect mechanics (no room for more features)

[ ]  Clear simple goal
The goal should be challenging yet manageable. Inspiring by its grandiosity yet motivating to start if chunked down.

Methods: presentation, visualization, imagination

a) high scores
b) levels/chapters
c) tasks/subtasks
d) goal always in front of you (eg. combine tower in HL2)
e) showing or forcing to imagine roadmap to goal (visualization increases chances of success)
d) 3rd person cameras
e) maps

[ ]  Immediate feedback
Only with a sense that the game is managable and learnable can the player focus and enter the Zone. He needs a sense of purpose of his actions. Feedback is a necessary component of learning which gives purpose and ultimately satisfaction.

Methods: responsiveness, clarity, logic, familiarity

a) effects (sounds, graphics, particles, motions)
b) understandable scores
c) responsive controls
d) responsive world (nothing static – everything jiggles, dings, pings etc.)
e) instant replays
f) clear reason for losing
g) clear path to avoiding mistake next time
h) what you see is what you get (no hidden mechanics)

[ ]  Hard but not too hard
Flow can only be maintained if the bar is constantly raising. If the challenge stops, flow stops. If there is no challenge, there is no flow.

Methods: science shows that tasks should be exactly (at all times) 4% greater than current skills to induce flow

a) game metrics / AI director
b) always increasing difficulty (Tetris!)
c) similar skill level for multiplayer
d) competitive scene (clan wars)

[ ]  Companionship
As humility was a binder, so companionship is an *enhancer*. When other people watch you everything changes. Suddenly there is much more at stakes. Suddenly there is much more to win.

Methods: transparency, communication, human touch, unpredictability, rivalry

a) competitive multiplayer
b) cooperative
c) leaderboards
d) community
e) chat / emoticons

[ ]  The pattern
Finally here is a map of an ideal game experience (which throws you into flow) and after this an example showing how this all works in a real game.

The pattern goes like this A->B->C->D->A->B->C->D->A… and corresponds to phases a player goes through while playing a level or part of the game.

Struggle -> Release -> Flow -> Recovery -> Struggle…

A. **Struggle**- awkwardness, frustration, unsolvable, analyzing chunks and patterns, leaping faith – “I can do it”
B. **Release** – failure, do something else, relax
C. **Flow** – return to challenge, finally “got it”, in the zone
D. **Recovery** – break from gameplay, leveling up, feedback, learning

Example game:

“Hotline Miami”

a) Struggle
Hotline Miami is extremely difficult in the beginning yet the goal is clear and very clear how to achieve it. The top-down view helps visualizing the path to success.

b) Release
The player can choose a variety of different “heads” before entering a level. These heads give different perks and abilities. It is a method of “stepping back” and trying something different. Sometimes even relaxing and doing something for fun (the weapons choice menu in Soldat works in a similar way).

c) Flow
This game can only be beaten in flow. This is why it is not uncommon that people finish the whole game in one seating. After accomplishing such a feat they don’t remember what they did, they just know “this was the best game ever”.

d) Recovery
Hotline Miami has intermittent levels that on first look serve no purpose. Between every mission you have a “shop” level where you can walk in a shop and talk to your clerk friend. Also before a mission starts you start at your apartment which reveals some details about your characters life (like a naked women in bathtub or bed). These serve only as a relief and recovery time. Something that takes the players mind off of the game, while his brain “compiles” and levels up for the next level.

Release and Recovery can be achieved artificially outside of the game. Simply stop playing and do something else. Return and you will be much better. However great games introduce these elements inside the game so there is no need to step away and you’re fully immersed and leave the state of Flow only after you finish the game.


More info:
[Gamasutra article about Flow and games]
[Art of Manliness podcast about Rise of Superman]

New game: Station Raiders

In the beginning, the game is just a pile of hard unchiseled rock. We are the sculptors that remove stone bit by bit to reveal what is inside. 

We had 3 ideas for Station Raiders.

We rejected the first because our mission is to expand our audience. We want different games in Cartridge although we gravitate towards multiplayer action most of the time :).

We rejected the second idea after making and playing it. The idea was laser traps which forced you to be careful and not trip over them. You could move other objects in front of the laser to get pass. It was nice but there was something bigger and shinier sitting quietly beneath. So we ditched the lasers.

It always feels like your creation is not enough. But it is enough. The third idea which is now the core of Station Raiders was there since the beginning.

Inside this rock we discovered a gem. It is not 100% polished, because this game is a prototype, but it is there for you to experience.

Have fun – Station Raiders


Emergent magic

I remember vividly one night, when we were kids with my brother. Trying to sleep in our beds, we suddenly heard wierd noises coming out of our parents room. We never heard them before. Something falling, something jumping? What was it?

We quietly snuck out of bed and went to peep. It was something new. My dad was sitting at his IBM and playing a game. We knew all the games on that computer (there weren’t many games in those days). But what was this?

This game keeps coming up in my memories although I haven’t played it in over 20 years. It was called “Alley Cat”. I can still hear the melody played on the PC speaker.

The next day, first thing in the morning we carefully typed in A L L E Y C A T in the DOS command box and got carried away.

Alley Cat was the hardest game we played. It was unforgiving. It challenged our little fingers like nothing before. It was simple though and the goals were clear. You played as an alley cat trying to catch mice and at the same time avoid other cats, flying shoes and brooms. The design was different and original.

A mystical aura surrounded the game. Like a hidden treasure found and retreived. We knew every game on that old PC, every directory, every file, every program. For some reason we missed this one and our dad discovered it. We thought of it as something else than the rest – it stood out.

It was mystical, it was different and it was challenging. It was perfect.

What really makes a perfect game? As you see it’s not about this or that feature. It’s also about everything else that surrounds a game.

Cartridge is my attempt to create a breeding ground for emergence to occur. It will create the unforeseen, that which we cannot think of, code or paint. Other developers often overlook this critical component of a good game. I want to focus on it. I want to recreate the magic Alley Cat had.

Cartridge is my way for that magic to happen.


Why games fail at first contact

I believe any kind of entertainment is a failure if it doesn’t give you direct pleasure at first contact.

In computer games you often get a title screen and company and publisher credits which you can’t skip. You press space, enter, escape, smash the keyboard. Can’t skip it. Gotta watch the carefully rendered animation made for some ego-centric publisher to show that it was his money put into the game.

The first experience of a game like this is – frustration. This theme continues, later with menus and long loading times. You put up with it because you paid money and now you believe it will be worth it.

Most likely it won’t be. Because if the game developer wasn’t conscious of serving you frustration right at the beginning, then how the hell can he be conscious of serving you other feelings – like fun and excitement?

I believe a game should just rocket launch you into action. You don’t have time to wait. You want to play it – right here right now. You want instant satisfaction and instant pleasure – at first contact. You run it, you touch it, you control it. You dive straight into the game world – It feels good. You’re having fun. And that’s how it should be. And this is how Cartridge will feel.


I like my games no bullshit

I like my games no bullshit.

No complicated controls, the need for tutorials, unnecesary menus, long instructions, introductions, cut scenes and filler features. No loading times, title screens, installers, big downloads and sketchy pricing schemes. No waiting years for it to come out, endless patches and changes, microtransactions and DLC, 

Time to stop the bullshit!

I only want the pure enjoyment and satisfaction of playing a great video game.


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