Some followup studies

As a followup to my local data breakdown, I thought I’d link to some other interesting findings:

Added 17/11/09: Marketing influences games more than ratings

Survey: Game Score-to-Sale Theory Again Disproven

A study from 2006 that concludes no correlation between sales & score.

When Pundits Attack: Game Sales vs Game Quality

This compares metacritic rating to overall sales for 1281 games during the PS2 era.

Each metacritic point is worth 7.7 extra sales per day

Some data extracted from between March 2007 & March 2008

The influence of metacritic on games sales

A more recent study from May 2009.

Goals and opposition in Fabric

This latest build of Fabric introduces goals – helping the blue particles to coalesce and eventually form suns & planets – and opposition – in the form of the red spikey particles which can destroy the blue particles.

What’s interesting here is how much focus has been pulled away from the grid – which was the original element.  It feels like the more nouns that are added to the game space, the less interesting & dynamic it becomes.   All the player is really doing in this version is clicking on the red spikey particles, rather than balancing destroying the grid & stitching it back together.

Next step, I think, is to pare it back and consider how the player interacts with the grid because adding elements to the space doesn’t seem to work.  That might be some time because this week, there’s the Digital Distribution Summit, I’m running some workshops in Yarrawonga, and the flying to Sydney to do a presentation at Screen Australia – then we’ll be into October and the first of the Freeplay Experimental Gameplay Projects.

Lighting and Texturing in Fabric

I’ve added simple ambient and point lighting to Fabric, along with a (familiar to mac users) background texture.

I’m not sure either feature works just yet.  The texture in particular is too busy and seems to draw the eye away from the grid, and the lighting effect, rather than focusing the player on the mouse cursor, feels as though it’s making the rest of the grid feel less important.

Meaningful choices and feedback in Fabric

Playing that first tech-pass of Fabric, it was clear that unstitching the world wasn’t going to work as the core mechanic of a game – it isn’t particularly interesting to destroy something, even to save it in the long-term, if you don’t have the possibility of fixing it too.  Enter the ability to stitch things back together, which changed the dynamic of the game, and introduced choice into Fabric’s world.  The other new feature in this build is a simple particle system that indicates when the red blobs have been destroyed.  This first pass player feedback gives cues to where events are taking place without necessarily forcing them to shift focus.


Once I’d recovered from pulling the event together, I found myself really inspired by the people at Freeplay who were pulling together their own projects – and it made me want to do the same.

So, I’ve started two things.

The first is an attempt over at the freeplay forums to run monthly experimental gameplay projects in Melbourne, producing one highly experimental game every month within 7 days and fitting a theme.  The first will run in October and we’re still deciding on the theme.  Head on over and sign up if you’re interested in taking part.

The second is I’ve started putting together what I think will actually be a bigger game now that I’ve started it.  It’s called ‘Fabric’ and I’m going to try and document its progress here.

The original idea for Fabric came from thinking about expressing connections mechanically, and also about creating a game where you had to destroy part of the environment in order to protect it.

The fabric of the game world is essentially a cloth simulation – particles connected by springs – with charged elements that travel along the grid-lines, seeking out their nearest neighbour.  When those charges connect, they destroy a large area of the grid around them.  The only way to stop them moving is to destroy the grid-line they’re travelling along.  The overall aim of the game is to stop the fabric unravelling completely as you can see it doing towards the end of the movie.

It’s still early days, but even at this early stage, the nature of the technology has brought up restrictions in what I originally thought I could do gameplay wise, but it’s also opened up other possibilities too, which was the whole point of the experiment.

Emerging Writers’ Festival

Now that the program has been officially launched, I think it’s safe to tell the world that I’m going to be speaking at the Emerging Writers’ Festival next month.  I’m doing a panel session talking about what happens when you’re the writer on a much larger project and then a From Here to There session talking about the process of writing for games and how I got my start in it.

Both sessions are on Sunday 31st May at the Melbourne Town Hall

1:45 in the Yarra Room – I Can Say Yes Now But In The End It Will Be No

3:00 in the Melbourne Room – From Here to There


Here‘s an interesting post from Brenda Brathwaite’s blog about how new media forms look to previous ones for inspiration, and how perhaps we should look to opera for inspirations about how games can tell stories.  As a games writer, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while, and then this interview with Jonathan Blow came along and triggered further thoughts along similar lines.

Challenge and stories aren’t really pulling in different directions in games.  It may be that we’re trying to use traditional storytelling techniques with games, and that’s where we fall down, but the reality is that with games, it’s just the mechanisms that we can use to tell stories are different than they are in other forms.  Brenda’s example of opera is a really good one, but you can easily find examples in other media.  Comics spring to mind as a form that shares elements with both film and prose, but how you interact with that is different to both.

And, I think that’s one of the key things – interaction, or how you engage and derive meaning from the medium – but games aren’t unique in being interactive.

I’ve often spoke in the past about levels of indirection in story-telling.  In prose, you’re effectively 3 levels seperate from your emotional response to the story.  You need to parse the sentences, imagine the events unfolding, then have your own individual experience of it.  With film, you’re 2 levels away.  You no longer need to parse and imagine, but you do need to form a bond with the characters on screen, and then your emotional response is filtered through that.  Games, or good games, remove the engagement barrier to a single level.  There’s no need to imagine events, they’re presented just like a film, and as the player, you’re the one controlling the characters and, hopefully, engaging in their emotional journey along the way.

As game developers, we believe that we’re unique, but the truth is, all media is interactive to some degree, it’s just the level of engagement and imagination we have with our audience is unique.  Not better though – there are things prose does better than other mediums, things that film does better, things that comics do better, things that music does better – the trick is to work out what the strengths of our medium are and play to those.

One thing that games do better than other media is brought up in Jonathan’s interview when he talks about Fallout 3.  In it, you come across a nurse who tried to hold off a horde and failed.  Jonathan thinks this moment works, but is an example of how the rest of the game fails, because there aren’t other moments like this.  I think that’s important to consider how effective that single element would be without the rest of the game around it.  There may not be a particularly strong central story to Fallout 3, but there is a consistent world, with consistent characters, and the player experience is built around that, rather than on the beat by beat, linear progression.  In this case, the player is encouraged to take on the identity of a post-apocalyptic wanderer trying to survive, and the world is designed to support that.  Story, or at least a linear story, is almost secondary to that identity-adoption.

Testing identities is one of the fundamental things that we do when we play, both as adults and as children, but we can’t do that without construction of some sort of fiction.  However, once we have that fiction, we can tell stories.  Games with stories provide fictions that encourages us to adopt the identities and goals of the characters and to believe that the actions they take and the challenges they face are important.  I believe that challenge alone isn’t important, that actions themselves aren’t important, but that it’s why we take those actions to overcome those challenges that is important. Games connect with us directly, and those that work, enable us to adopt those identities and want to solve those problems alongside the characters.