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.