Tuesday, December 2, 2014

From Other Blogs

To prepare for writing a blog, I went online and read posts from various blogs about game development or dame design. There was a general pattern throughout all of the blogs I visited. The blog would have a large, central theme, such as reviewing other games in detail, giving advice about how to develop a game, talking about various aspect of game design, or talking about how games improve the world we live in. For each blog I found, this was a very wide theme with plenty of room to explore and a lot to talk about.

Each post within each blog was also very self contained. Each would cover a single element stemming from the blog's overarching theme. For example, a blog about how games improve the world we live had a post about a certain charity organization related to gaming, and a post about how the writer treated recovery from a minor brain injury as a multiplier, while blogs about game development had posts giving advise about particular elements of developing games. Every post would have a title which would summarize what the topic of the post would give a clear indication to the reader as to whether the post might actually interest them, as opposed to some blogs I have seen elsewhere with "clickbait" titles meant to draw readers in by not telling them what the article is actually about ("See What Happens When You Mix Coke and Milk. Play The Video to Find Out!!!").

Based off the blogs I have seen, it would seem that the most appropriate way to organize this blog would to be with an overarching theme of "Principles of Game Design" and have each individual post go into detail about a particular principle. Each post would be completely self-contained, but relevant to the entire blog.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Skinner Box - Behavioral Conditioning in Games

B. F. Skinner was very prominent behaviorist in the 20th century. One of the way he tested his theories in behavioral science was by operant conditioning chambers. These chambers, also known as "Skinner boxes" are usually small boxes containing a subject, such as a rat or a pigeon. They additionally contain some form of mechanism, such as a button or a lever which, once activated under certain criteria, will give some form of reinforcement, such as dispensing food to the subject.
By changing the criteria for food to be dispensed, Skinner was able to measure the behavioral conditioning of the subject. He tried criteria such as:

Give a rat a food pellet every time it presses a lever.
Give a rat a food pellet every X times it presses a a lever.
Give a rat a food pellet the first time it presses a lever after N minutes.
Give a rat a food pellet after a random Xth press of the lever.
Give a rat a food pellet the first time it presses a lever after a random Nth minute.


The results of his study found that there were clear differences between the responses to the various criteria. He found that the rats were most likely to press the lever the most often when the reinforcement is based on how many times the rat presses the lever, but the rat is unsure of how many times it will take. This is called Variable Ratio and has a very clear influence in the real world. Slot machines are an excellent example of this. They are nearly skinner boxes themselves. They have a subject: the person using the machine. They have a mechanism for the subject to interact with: the lever. And they have a form of reinforcement: money. They use variable ratio to keep people using them as often as possible. The subjects have no idea when they will get their reinforcement, but they know that it is entirely dependent on how many times they use the machine.

The same trap is all too often applied to video games as well. For example, in many games monsters will have a chance to drop "loot" when killed. Often there is a very large level of probablity involved in this loot drop system, with monsters having a small chance to drop rare and powerful loot. This is most common in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games) This will lead many players to fight these monsters over and over, sometimes for hours, hoping for this rare loot drop.

If you were to ask these gamers, or these slotmachine users, whether they had fun spending hours at these repetitive tasks, they would likely say that no, it wasn't exactly fun. But they felt compelled to keep going anyway. This is because they were being conditioned by the machine, or by the game. They felt drawn to continue. Unfortunately, many game developers don't see this as a problem. They see that their userbase has spent more time playing because of these techniques, and that seems like a bonus for them. But this is a trap which should be avoided. It keeps users from interacting from the game in more positive ways and causes them to finish feeling underwhelmed and like they didn't really accomplish anything.

If you are a gamer and you find yourself playing a game and you can't honestly say you're having fun, but feel draw too it anyway, step back and think for a moment. Is the game using variable ratios for its rewards? If so, you may be stuck in a Skinnerbox.

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Acosta, Keyvan, et al. "Skinner Box" 100
     Principles of Game Design. Ed. Wendy Despain. Illus. Raymond Yuen. San
     Francisco: New Riders, 2013. 50-51. Print.

"Skinner Box." Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions. Philadelphia:
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012. Credo Reference. Web. 15 December 2014.

The 80/20 Rule - 20% of the content is 80% of the experience

The 80/20 rule, also known as The Pareto Principle, states that for many situations, 80 percent of the effect comes from 20 percent of the causes. This idea is most commonly used in economics, and in fact originated from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto's observation that 80 percent of the land in Italy was controlled by 20 percent of the population. It is claimed that he later developed this into a principle when he noticed that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden accounted for 80 percent of the peas.

A 1992 United Nations Development Report found that the richest 20 percent of the world population held 82.7 percent of the total income.
The principle can apply to many aspects of business, such as 80 percent of the sales come from 20 percent of the profit, or 80 percent of the profits come from 20 percent of the time spent open.

This principle can also be easily applied to games. The idea is that 80 percent of the time spent playing, the player will be experiencing just 20 percent of the content. There may be plenty of features in a given game, but the player will not be experiencing everything at once. For example, in a typical Mario game, there are a large number of enemies and levels. Players can only be on one level at a time, however, and will generally only face a few enemies at once. The features found in the Core Gameplay Loop will hold the vast majority of the player's time. This would be mechanics of jumping, the most common enemies, and the process of moving from left to the right through the levels. Developers should be sure focus intensely on that 20 percent of content which is most used. Treat it as a much higher priority than the rest of the 80 percent, or the overall game will suffer.

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Acosta, Keyvan, et al. "The 80/20 Rule" 100 
     Principles of Game Design. Ed. Wendy Despain. Illus. Raymond Yuen. San
     Francisco: New Riders, 2013. 64-65. Print.

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 1992. New York:
     Oxford UP, 1992. Print.

Core Gameplay Loop - The Heart of Gameplay

The Core Gameplay Loop is the very heart of a game.  It is arguably the single most important part of a game. It is a cycle of actions the game requires the player to perform over and over. Consider chess. In chess, the core gameplay loop is
1) Analyze the board 2) Make a move 3) Examine Opponent's move
Then repeat.

In a Call of Duty game, the core gameplay loop is
1) Move strategically 2) Look for enemies 3) Shoot enemies
Then repeat

In Pac Man, the core gameplay loop is
1) Eat dots 2) Avoid ghosts
Repeat

The core gameplay loop will be repeated often in a game, but is not necessarily a repetitive task. For example, in chess, your opponent may make a move you did not expect, or in a Call of Duty game, you may run out of ammo for your primary weapon and have to change your strategy to account for your change in weaponry. In Pac Man, a ghost may wander towards the dots you are trying to get to, forcing you to rethink your path.

Core gameplay loops can be simple or complex, but what is important is that they are enjoyable and variable. The player will spend the vast majority of their time in this loop, and so it is vital that it receives a high amount of refining.

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Acosta, Keyvan, et al. "Core Gameplay Loop" 100
     Principles of Game Design. Ed. Wendy Despain. Illus. Raymond Yuen. San
     Francisco: New Riders, 2013. 70-71. Print.

Kelly, Tadhg. "Game Dynamics and Loops [Game Design]." What Games Are. N.p., 18
     Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. <http://www.whatgamesare.com/2011/01/
     game-dynamics-and-loops-game-design.html>.

Momoda, Jerry. "The Importance of Core Game Loops." Game Analysis. N.p., 31 Oct.
     2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. <http://jerrymomoda.com/
     the-core-loop-key-to-an-engaging-game/>.

MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics

The MDA framework is a way of looking at and understanding games through three main components. To help with the explanation, consider the following situation.
In the game Left 4 Dead 2, you are shooting through hordes of zombies with a team of yourself and three other people. There are special enemies which can "pin" down players, completely incapacitating them. They must be saved by their allies or they will die. These are the mechanics of the game. How the game works. This is built into the source code of the game, and is purely logic.
Because of these mechanics, the game is very teamwork oriented. Players try to stay together, because they know they need their team mates to keep from getting "pinned" down. The opposing team, playing as the special enemies, will often try to separate these players, to make them easier to pin down.
These are the dynamics of the game. These are not built into the code. There is no rule saying players must stay together, buy they chose to because of the mechanics.
This teamwork oriented gameplay then can give players a sense of comradery or fellowship. They may learn to rely on each other and work together effectively. This is the aesthetics. The emotions caused by the dynamics. This is obviously not written in the code, or even shown tangibly in the game. Yet it is a very important part of the game.

Players tend to experience these three aspects in the order I told them. They learn the mechanics first. Once they understand how the game works, they develop dynamics. Once they start using these dynamics, they will experience the aesthetics.
Developers have to work in the reverse order. The Aesthetics are the end goal, and the developers often have a aesthetic, or a theme in mind when they start. They then have to think of how to make the players feel these aesthetics; the dynamics. What causes a sense of fellowship? Teamwork! Staying together! Covering each other's backs! Then they must decide what mechanics would encourage these dynamics. What would keep players together? The threat of incapacition if they wander off!

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Acosta, Keyvan, et al. "MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics." 100 
     Principles of Game Design. Ed. Wendy Despain. Illus. Raymond Yuen. San
     Francisco: New Riders, 2013. 30-31. Print.

Hunicke, Robin, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek. "MDA: A Formal Approach to Game
     Design and Game Research." CiteSeerX (2004): n. pag. Print.