Friday, July 16, 2010

New title and layout

As the few of you who come here may have noticed I have changed the layout of my site a bit. Pretty nice, right?

Also I decided to change the title of my site. "Carrot v Stick" obviously is not something coined by me, but it is always a key aspect of design I come back to on a very regular basis. The definition is obvious and simple, because as a designer you are creating a world and inviting a player to explore that world. When the player, inevitably, does things in this world which you never intended for them to do you are ostensibly left with two choices: punishing the player for doing something you don't want them to do, or rewarding them into doing what you want the player to do. Punishment and reward.

I am a big believer in positive reinforcement in all facets of life, and it is such a part of me that it finds its way into my design with little resistance. But I feel a common misstep among many designers, and would-be designers, is to immediately go for the stick. It is the easy answer If the player is doing something undesirable then the first thing to do is punish them. Of course this may be the ideal answer when the player is outright capable of breaking the logic of the game.

I think a great example of well implemented Carrot is the multiplayer of Modern Warfare 2. I could only imagine how play sessions went during development, but if it is anything like the flow of "anger" from the mouths of scrubs playing the game then surely there were major balance decisions to be made.

A common complaint is the power of the grenade launcher, or noob toob. Now the developers can either nerf the launcher; make it less accurate, less powerful, slower reload time, (all examples of "stick.") Or take the carrot route and introduce items like the riot shield and blast shield. When combined, explosions do little or no damage. But now you have a turtle running around the stage invulnerable to many attacks, so now what do you do? Slow their speed down more, have the shield break over time, don't let them carry a second weapon? Or follow the path of the carrot again and introduce the Semtex grenade, which sticks to whatever it is thrown on. The shield is a larger, slower moving target, and is a guaranteed kill when stuck to the riot shield (though my wife swears wearing the blast shield in tandem will save you, but I never had such luck), and is a really quick way to accomplish the challenge of sticking semtex to 25 players.

That is the only good example I can think of, but I know the moment I come across it in another game I am going to make hop on here and write about it immediately. In the meantime I am looking forward to analyzing my own approach at design and hunting down the carrots and sticks in any games I play from now on.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Reading and Proofreading

I enjoy reading Kotaku. Whether I agree with the person posting for them or not, they are on top of most of the goings on in games and I have fun commenting on their forums. Two days ago Stephen Totilo of Kotaku wrote about his hesitation to kill buffalo in Red Dead Redemption. I had written of the same hesitance in a post on the 20th of June, so I linked him to my blog to show him my thoughts. I guess I could have copied and pasted it into an email, but I thought it would be fun to send him along to my blog and see what transpired. Much to my chagrin he wrote a Kotaku post about it, with a very large image of a Bison, and at the time of this writing has received over 18,000 hits and nearly 400 comments on the subject. Not the highest Kotaku reading of the day, but on average not too shabby.

It was pretty neat seeing my name on there, and completely unexpected. I had anticipated some kind of email from Stephen, but not a direct quote to my shitty post I wrote when I was very, very tired and on the verge of passing out from sleep deprivation and gaming to all hours of the morning. And in a few ways, maybe this was a bad thing. A lot of the Kotaku readers who shared in their comments were either upset and criticizing me for not being able to discern reality from fantasy, and others were agreeing and sharing their own hesitation to kill the buffalo in the game because they found it deplorable (though there were a rare few, and you know who you are, and you are rad). To me it was very odd because in a lot of ways my blog post had nothing to do with either opinion and I probably did a shitty job making this clear.

For the most part, it was an introspective look at WHY I was having any hesitation at all. I was actually quite shocked that I felt any hesitation as it was a rare occurrence when playing most of these games, and I commended Rockstar for inciting this kind of reaction in me. It is something I rarely encounter and I found it fascinating and thought provoking and I had to let it out in writing. And now I am struck by a whole new fascination; the idea that people do not read shit.

As a video game developer I am starting to get used to it, and that kind of sucks. For each game design document I write, I can tell who does and does not read the design document and/or pitches, and who just looks at table of contents and pictures. "Please make sure we do this in the game" a publisher will say, and all I can respond with is "oh, did you miss page 37 of the gdd?" when all I want to say is "yeah, I know, I already accounted for that, read the goddamn gdd motherfucker!" But of course someone paid to read documents would read those, but why would some random person cruising Kotaku bother to follow Mr. Totilo's link and read my blog post, even when instructed to "Read the whole post. And explain your buffalo-killing ways."? I mean, why would they bother to read beyond the two paragraphs Mr. Totilo felt were a good representation of what I had to say, to be sure they didn't take anything out of context, or to be sure Mr. Totilo didn't grab paragraphs in which I did a shitty job fully encapsulating my thoughts?

I can not IMAGINE being a writer, especially on one of these blogs. It must pain people like Stephen Totilo to write an article only to have a majority of people read only the headline, misinterpret it, and then post their messages as fast as they can just so people can see what their opinion is. That kind of thing would aggravate the shit out of me to no extent. Although, I can relate in a few ways. In my short five years in the industry (I am a veteran in gaming years mind you) I have released a handful of games mostly to shitty reviews, and I have seen a very similar thing in both reviews and message boards. Some people want to go out of their way to have an opinion and beat down your game, but not really take the time to understand it (I guess this is kind of a vague statement, but anyone who has worked hard on a project can relate in one form or another I am sure.) I am really hoping people will be able to play Galactic Tazball, Despicable Me, and the game I am currently directing, and look at them objectively for what we attempt to do, and not just what the reviewer is expecting from the game based on some arbitrary biases they bring to the table. But in some ways, every review is approached with this same shitty bias, so maybe the playfield is even.

In other ways, I should be a better writer and a better proofreader. If, in the future, I want people like Stephen Totilo to quote me and take my professional opinion seriously, then I should have paragraphs which are easily more quotable with less that can be misinterpreted. I may forever go down as the wuss who could not shoot Buffalo in Red Dead Redemption when googling my name, when I could have just as easily (with the simple stroke of some keys and better grammar) been the guy who pointed out how buffalo don't come back and it is a rare thing in games. I suppose from here on out I will proofread my writing better, and become the writer and designer I want to be, and perhaps incite as much thought and debate as I did today with a large number of Kotaku readers (but after tonight, because I have had way too much wine to validate any proofreading.)

And to anyone who actually ventured to this blog and read through each shittily worded paragraph, I thank you and ask you to comment here so that I can someday high five you and call you my friend.