Dev notes – puzzles and surprise

Just some notes for a new game I’m developing.

Puzzles

“[A] puzzle has a solution, while a mystery may never be solved. A puzzle must make sense, but a mystery may well not.” – Jake Elliot (will add the reference shortly)

“We value puzzles not because we like struggling, but because we like having mechanical phenomena revealed to us.” – Hamish Todd

“The point of the puzzle is to show some truth. Know what that truth is. Eliminate anything that is not about that truth. [...] Have a puzzle be part of a sequence or superstructure. [...] Removing arbitrary steps hopefully drastically reduces the number of puzzle steps. [...] A good balance between low number of steps and low chance of a random successful attempt creates good puzzles. [...] The designer is abdicating authorship over the puzzle. ‘The Universe’ is the real designer of the puzzle. It is not about reading the mind of the designer, but about reading the mind of ‘mother nature’.” Jonathan Blow and Marc Ten Bosch

Surprise

“An easy way to surprise the player is in the way mechanics combine. [Also] Surprise with high-level expressions built from your low-level concepts.” Jonathan Blow

Looking at a film synopsis through game writing eyes

Yesterday I saw news of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film “Book of Life” (he is the producer, and Jorge Gutierrez the director). The film looks amazingly beautiful, and a treat of a story. But something struck me when I read the synopsis, and I’m surprised by the thought. The official synopsis is as follows:

THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future. [IMDb]

What struck me as strange is that I didn’t see the protagonist’s conflict of being torn between family expectations and following his heart as being an evenly weighted dilemma. I can see how that can work in a story I’m watching or reading, and I have written my own stories with such a quandary. I just found this time I looked at the predicament and thought that would never work in a game. Well, that isn’t true. It can, but it doesn’t have the immediate strength of a true dilemma. I mentioned the importance of this notion in an article I wrote on emotion in games:

There shouldn’t be one option that is right or better than the others. The game One Choice by Awkward Silence Games displays this edict well. In One Choice, you’re a scientist who, along with your team, has accidently created a pathogen that is killing all living cells on Earth. The game takes place in the last six days on Earth. You make choices about how to spend these last few days: spend time with your family, work on a cure, or go nuts? I kept being offered these options, and it wasn’t cut and dry for me. I would make a decision, and then I would feel guilty or think that another option was better for me and try again. Either way, whatever I did, someone lost with every decision I made, and I didn’t get any second chances.

One of the things Chris Crawford writes about in his book on interactive storytelling for instance, is how important it is for the choices we offer players to be equally meaningful:  ‘a large set of dramatically significant, closely balanced choices for the player’. If it is obvious which choice the player should make, then they aren’t feeling anything. Family expectations, while certainly a real issue for many, just seems like a weaker option compared to the protagonist wanting to follow his heart. (Of course it won’t be that cut and dry in the film. I presume the story will weave its way to gaining family acceptance through his own path or some other turn where both paths are appeased.)

But how is following your heart on equal footing as meeting your family expectations? There needs to be something else in there to ground the dilemma. Honouring the spirit of his forefathers versus following his heart perhaps? Both need to have a cost, a sacrifice to them, that pulls at his identity or sense of being.

None of these observations mean the film story won’t work. I’m sure it is a wonderful film. Also I want to note too that games don’t have to be a series of interesting choices, and Guillermo is no stranger to videogames or transmedia. Instead, perhaps the issue is with marketing language. While marketers promoting the film (and the logic of industry pitching) are film-centric — working with the conventions of film only — the audience is not. Narrative is not the only primary literacy now. So the language used to describe phenomena needs to evolve accordingly.

Check out this amazing trailer if you haven’t seen it, and let me whatever thoughts you may have…

Also on:

I am a Citizen of the IndieWeb! :D

For a while now I have found it frustrating searching through my Facebook feed to find posts and discussions. Facebook has been my main networking channel for a while now, more than Twitter this past year or so. But everything I put in there is easily lost, and it is really hard to get it out. It isn’t my space.

I’m keen to write more again — especially to share random thoughts on my projects (a creator’s log/dev diary). A blog is better for this and will reach people outside of my network. To be frank, considering the algorithms of Facebook and the serendipity of Twitter, blog posts may reach more people IN my networks too.

I, like many people have been looking out for a new social network. But another social network will not solve the problem. And neither will leaving social media. Then I stumbled on something.

Well I didn’t quite stumble, I went looking for it. I went to someone I know will have his finger on the pulse of what the vanguard-tech-scene-with-a-conscience is doing. Kevin Marks. I met Kevin in 2009 at the ultra secret O’Reilly Social Web FOO Camp. Yep, we camped on the O’Reilly grounds in Sebastopol, California. Kevin and I bonded immediately and caught up at tech events around the world. The following year we had a great conversation together over at TummelVision, and he advised me on the early tech ideas for my web audio adventure system. But back to the point. I was looking around at Kevin on the web, and came across this presentation he gave at LeWeb: “the web that will win“.

I found myself nodding at his comments. Yes, I remember when I used to blog! I remember my Technorati ranking peaking at times. And I’m well aware that I no-longer blog and instead use social networks as the places I post my primary original content. Then I read this:

The IndieWeb is a group of people who recognise that the silos are important for connecting – but you should have your own site. Don’t replace those tools, but use them to connect the rest of the web.

And I got it! Right! I don’t have to leave social networks. I just need to post all my content on my own blog and syndicate it out. So I don’t lose it. I control it. And it is easily archived, and found, and so on. I get it!

But there is more. You don’t just post to your own site. You don’t just syndicate. You still utilise social networks (and hang out there if you want). But even further to this: all the comments that happen around the web come back to your blog.

I am in. I have spent a few hours installing plugins and I have some more tweaking to do. This is my first post using the tech of the #IndieWeb and I’m not sure if it will work (and there is more updating of my pages I need to do here too). But by golly I am excited and will make it happen. I’m super keen to explore posting more and playing with post titles that work in syndication and everything that goes with this approach [addendum: the Social plugin I'm using gives you the opportunity to write what comes before your link so the title doesn't matter at all -- another cool thing]. If you’re interested too, check out the links below. Ping me if you have any thoughts! :D

Screen shot 2014-07-02 at 7.44.48 PM

Some articles on the IndieWeb: