Monday, December 27, 2010

Video Game Hand Behavior and Activity

I had an impulsive idea the other day: video record roughly 5 minutes of my hands using the PS3 controller when playing through four different PS3 games. I wanted to capture the activity/ inactivity of the hands as well as their behavior needed to operate each game.

The video begins after New Game is selected and the opening game options are finalized.

Some general rules I set out for myself:

• Play through each game as linearly as possible
• Do not skip cutscenes
• Do not press any dead buttons
• Do not press any buttons during an inactive part of the game

These rules allow the footage to be as clean as possible by showing the true hand behavior as well compare the periods of hand activity/ inactivity.

Some interesting thoughts after viewing the footage:

• Watching the hands operate the game via the controller is memorizing at times
• No matter how well we designers try to map mechanics to the controller, there is still that level of arbitrariness due to the physical disconnection of the controller and tv as well as the action on screen

I was going to quantify the actual times of hand activity/inactivity as well as the # of buttons pressed and used, but the video speaks for itself. You can see from the video some games go long periods of time before player control is initially allowed.

I chose four recent (2009-2010) AAA PS3 games for my little experiment. Can you identify which games they are by just looking at the hands operating the controller?

Uncharted 2
God of War 3
Batman Arkham Asylum
Heavy Rain

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conversation: What is a Game Designer?

Tonight I was randomly thinking back to my time at GDC 2010. I'd see a lot of people with the "Game Designer" title on their badges. Every time I saw that it had me thinking, "OK, what exactly do you do?" I mean, I've been in the industry for a decent amount of time and it's still a guess as to what a "Game Designer" actually does from developer to developer. So imagine what an Outsider, someone not in the industry, thinks when you tell him you're a Game Designer.

Below is just me basically talking to myself. The conversation doesn't really have a structure to it and it kind of just ends. I just went with the flow.

Outsider: So what do you do for a living?

Game Designer: I’m a game designer.

Outsider: Oh, cool. You design board games?

Game Designer: No, video games.

Outsider: Ahh. So you program them?

Game Designer: No, not really.

Outsider: Oh! You must draw them then.

Game Designer: Uhh, not really. I kind of make rules. I mean there’s some “programming” involved but I don’t “code” you know?

Outsider: Oh.

Outsider: I don't think I can ever be a game designer. I suck at drawing.

Game Designer: You don't really need to know how to draw. Can you draw stick figures?

Outsider: Yeah.

Game Designer: If you can communicate your idea to someone using just stick figure drawings, then you have done part of your job as a game designer.

Outsider: Do you have to be good in math?

Game Designer: Did you take any kind of math in high school?

Outsider: Yeah.

Game Designer: Then that's a good start. Any other math you may need can be found on the internet.

Outsider: Oh.

Outsider: So you must play a lot of video games then.

Game Designer: I do sometimes. I mean, I used to. But now as I've been in the industry longer, I'm trying to become more balanced in how I spend my time: movies, books, travel, random road trips, driving schools, people watching. Anything to broaden my mind and my experience with the world. Sometimes I feel playing video games stunts my growth as a game designer. Does that make any sense?

Outsider: Kind of.

Game Designer: Does any of this interest you?

Outsider: Yes, very much so.

Outsider: Hmm, what about writing? Do you have to be a good writer?

Game Designer: Well...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Resident Evil 4: One-Page Analysis Exercise

When I'm motivated, I sometimes create random game design exercises in order to try to keep my mind sharp. Below I tried to boil down the fundamentals of Resident Evil 4 into a one-page analysis. Admittedly, I didn't do that great of a job. I relied more on analytical feel and instinct, although I didn't have a goal other than to "feel" what the underlying elements were keeping me immersed. I might try to do another iteration on this analysis and stay more focused on moment-to-moment player actions / mechanics.


Genre: Survival Horror

Number of Players: 1

Story and level progression: Linear

PRIMARY GENRE SUPPORT: The story, visual art, music, sound effects and writing provide the primary support and feeling of Survival Horror”

SECONDARY GENRE SUPPORT: The controls and camera serve to enhance the Survival Horror feeling without becoming an annoyance or a distraction

FAT FREE: Every element serves a specific purpose to the primary element / driving force which is Survival Horror


CONTROLS AND CAMERA: The controls and camera are precisely and purposely designed to enhance the scary factor. Primary examples include the following:

· Navigation is limited to walking or running forward and only walking backwards; NOTE: Walking backwards speed is faster than walking forward speed

· Fast turning allowed, but only in a 180 degree motion

· ALL control (player and camera) removed during reloading

· Player is not allowed to adjust the turning speed of the camera / gun aiming

· Camera is positioned over the right shoulder or in the “something is behind me” angle


Deafening Silence – This ever-present element greatly enhances the introduction of specific enemy and environment sounds; by default, the hero’s own footsteps are the primary sounds when traversing through an area

Enemy Animations – The detail in these deliver a large amount of scary factor; for example, after executing a headshot on an enemy, the enemy continues to walk forward for a few moments with interruption; another example: when an enemy decides to turn around, he waits a few beats and then turns around

Foreshadowing – Different levels of foreshadowing of future scary events done via Notes, story cutscenes

Level design flexibility – Level design allows for enemies to spawn seemingly out of nowhere or from pre-determined areas

Enemy Spawning - Usually enemies are spawned when a mini-objective is completed or a new area is reached. Keyword: Usually; consequently, the scary factor is increased even when enemies are NOT spawned.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kid Dhalsim

Today, I impulsively drove down to Nucleus Art Gallery in Alhambra, CA and picked up "Kid Dhalsim." The first time I noticed this Rhode Montijo Dhalsim piece was when the JAB STRONG FIERCE (Street Fighter Tribute Show) was announced. But only when a friend of mine mentioned this very same piece a few days ago did I actually start to think about what this image may represent to me.

First, (old) Dhalsim was the primary character I used during my heyday of placing in Street Fighter World and U.S. championships. So this serves as a cute reminder for all the time I spent trying to perfect my style with (old) Dhalsim.

Second, you can logically infer from this image that 1) Kid Dhalsim is having trouble learning how to control and master his abilities or 2) he's given up on something and went to drown his sorrows in the corner or 3) he's just plain sad, so at this point he's not concerned with focusing on controlling his powers or 4) he's just plain pooped and defeated.

So when I was reminded for this image again, I realized, ok, I think I'm Kid Dhalsim right now.

I've experienced these emotional spikes working on God of War 3. There are days I feel like Kid Dhalsim. But on the other hand, there are days where I feel like (old) Dhalsim: confident, focused, in control.

It's funny how we can find ways to relate to an image of a character. Anyways, this is my first ever purchase of an Art piece. I made sure there was something in or about the image I can relate to before I bought it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Anthony Burch Destructoid Rant On How Games should be Artistically Relevant

I usually don’t blog about industry topics / news, because 1) I like to focus on game design issues, solutions, experience, etc and 2) well, I’m just a small cog (right now) in our very young game industry. But after reading the “95% of games are juvenile, etc, etc” video rant by Anthony Burch of Destructoid, I felt I had to at the very least give my simple minded perspective on what games have meant and mean to me and also just to simply state that his rant is factually inaccurate.

You can find his rant here:

Just a warning: Yes, I’m going to ramble and be all over the place; I’m not really trying to write an academic paper, although I could, I’m not. I’m just shooting from the hip here.

Games are More than Art or Entertainment

I think those that are lobbying for that one game to “legitimize” video games as an “art” form are missing the entire point of what video games are: they are more than entertainment or art (although they can obviously function as both); they are immersive physical, conscious and subconscious interaction reality replacements. Although I agree with Anthony Burch’s conclusion that games can be about anything, why stop at trying to be a legitimate artistic medium? But if you must place the art label within this medium, I think video games have already established themselves as a legitimate art form. We just don’t know it yet. We’re too busy trying to compare video games to all these other mediums like movies, books, drawings, music, etc. instead of celebrating what video games have already accomplished in comparison to the other mediums. This is where we are being blinded. We are searching for something artistically relevant? But relevant to whom? Games are relevant to many groups of people from 12-year-old boys to housewives to teenagers to Grandma Hardcore. They are relevant because of the investment required to play them. You simply cannot “watch” a videogame. You actually have to put forth all types of effort (physical, psychological, emotional) to experience their…experience.

Games are their Own Relevance

Games have created their own type of relevance. Something that was not possible before with movies. Sure, video games right now may still be niche and carry a sub-culture stigma to it, but nevertheless, video games have created their own sub-cultures. A brand new method of escapism. I for one am not waiting around for our video game equivalent to Citizen Kane; we’ve already got Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, the list goes on and on. This is something movies or any other medium can’t match in terms of immersion and interaction, balance of visual stimulation through color, mood, pacing, dialogue, story, music, etc. Video games have taken all of the elements of the other mediums and created something beyond labels such as art or entertainment.

So you might be asking what is the human relevance to these games? What are they doing for humanity’s advancement? In my best simple minded response: they are making us forget about all of the real life nonsense we have to deal with in the real world. And they did a better job than movies, books, music, drawing, etc., well at least for me. Call it what you want: diversionary, mindless, juvenile…it doesn’t matter. For example, some of us 80s kids, these games were instrumental in guiding us through our childhood. The wonderful worlds we got to INTERACT with was just enough for us at that time. Those games were able to take my mind, body and spirit to that so-called zone and make me forget everything around me that I needed to forget. It wasn’t even an effort on my part to forget my real world troubles, daily routines. I forgot them instantly because these games were firing on all cylinders. These games, and many more that I haven’t listed, in my opinion, pushed the envelope on what the medium can do WITHOUT actually telling you they were making you feel happiness, carefree, lonely, worried, scared, etc. They did this through the careful balance of gameplay, setting, camera, pacing, sound, color, shapes and every other element and technique needed to draw you in into their world. And they didn’t even do this with real world graphics, settings or openly and overtly talking about the real life issues. These games were multi-faceted: they allowed the player to make his own interpretation on what issues are being represented in these games, but they also were just simply fun “games”. Years later you can still come back to these games with a more educated and intellectual mind and break down the psychology and the subconscious lessons being taught through the game. That’s not art or entertainment; it’s something beyond those labels, something that speaks to the player directly and puts you in the zone of immersion. This is the true power of the medium…and it’s been doing this on and off for 20+ years.

And now I’m a grown adult, a professional I guess. And games are still doing for me now what they did for me when I was 4-years-old or a teenager: creating not just a diversion from “real life” stuff, but creating a “real” world for me where I can lose myself and forget the real world stuff I want and sometimes need to forget. Sure, books and movies can somewhat accomplish that, but video games take it to a whole another level.

Inaccuracies and Hyperbole

Anthony Burch is just inaccurate when he states, and I’m paraphrasing, “95% of games are mindless, juvenile, violent, etc…” I mean have you even walked into a GameStop lately? Off the top of my head, I can think of a cornucopia of non-violent mainstream games like Nintendogs, Wii Sports, Madden, Mario Kart, Mirror’s Edge, Broken Sword that evoke a certain type of emotion however shallow. I mean have you played Nintendogs? Nurturing and parental emotion evoking going on there. No violence. Mirror’s Edge? This game gets the adrenaline pumping without directly being related to violence. Broken Sword? This point-and-click fuses the slow and deliberate pacing of a book with interactive bits. Only real life violence represented here. Maybe Anthony Burch is just upset that many derivative games are violent and are commercially successful at the same time and that innovation has taken a back seat to the company’s bottom line. Yeah, that sucks, but there are so many different games out there that try to have different approaches and try to reach different audiences. A lot of mainstream games serve their purpose very well. The proof is in the communities that sprout up and the following they foster. I just don’t understand some of the statistics he’s throwing out there. His rant just seems filled with so many absolutes, hyperbole and a touch of elitism.


Anthony Burch talks about how mainstream games right now are “primarily about one thing: mindless violence.” Then he goes on to talk about how, yeah, a lot of crappy movies may get released every year but there’s always like “12 or so really good movies or movies that attempt some kind of artistic statement.” Can’t you say the same thing about video games? There's always a handful of games each year (Braid, Flower, for example) that attempt to bring something new to the table and push the medium in a different direction than what is considering the current trend, like WWII shooter derivative or zombies or whatnot.

Street Fighter Transcended The Medium

I come from the Street Fighter competitive scene. This is pretty much how I came to be introduced to the video game industry. What Street Fighter has contributed to the so-called “art form” that is video games are immense and amazing and probably unexpected…which makes it even more magical. It has created its own sub-culture within a sub culture. This “mindless” violent and silly game had the power to create a competitive “sport” where players from all around the world travel thousands of miles to compete against each other to see who the best is. This mindless and irrelevant game has brought people from all over the world together to celebrate and showcase the talents and abilities of real people, in real world situations. These players have trained and studied to become the best they can be. Street Fighter has given them an outlet to feel good about themselves. Street Fighter has given them a sense of belonging and pride and confidence they were possibly lacking in "real life." Lifelong friendships have been formed…because of Street Fighter. Entire communities have been formed because of Street Fighter. Elements of other video games have been improved because of Street Fighter. See, when I hear Anthony Burch rant about how 95% of games are juvenile and irrelevant, it kind of hits a nerve because it’s an indirect attack on a game like Street Fighter that has actually improved the human spirit of a small chunk of society. Street Fighter has brought together people that probably would have never interacted with each other. Street Fighter transcended video games and the medium along with it, with these group of people. A video game did this. This is more than art or entertainment.

Tip of the Gaming Iceberg

Why stop at trying to legitimize games as an art? Games can be so much more than just art or entertainment. What about Wii Fit? Nintendo is actually trying (directly, indirectly, pseudo, it doesn’t really matter) to save lives (maybe a bit of hyperbole on my part) through video games. I think trying to legitimize games as Art is only the tip of the iceberg in a sea of thousands of icebergs. Games are so much more powerful than that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Game Director Description

Descriptions of a game director:
  • Spontaneous ideas led to action (prototyping), not discussion
  • He trusted his team to come through; didn’t micro or over manage
  • No such thing as “impossible”; he expected his team member’s to at least try to prototype
  • He carried a singular vision
  • Encouraged team member’s to find better solutions not by overly criticizing, but by presenting alternative solutions
  • He recognized it took a team of specialists to see his vision through fruition; he knew he couldn’t do it by himself
  • If one of his team member’s had an issue that affected his productivity and efficiency, he made sure to rectify that problem as quickly as possible so the team member could continue to create
  • The layout of the space was iterated on 100+ times before the final layout was achieved
  • He brought out the supreme best in his team members; better is the enemy of amazing
  • Overall, his team trusted his decisions and direction
  • Curiosity was his driving force
  • Supremely optimistic
  • He would recognize team members hidden talents before they even knew of them
  • He was fascinated with every aspect of development and wanted (and did) learn many different elements in order to assist team members directly
  • Knew exactly what he wanted
  • Infectious enthusiasm
These are just some of the daily philosophies and attributes that described...Walt Disney. It's not a stretch to think Walt Disney himself could have been an amazing video game designer. You could read more about this here.