Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 12

Tuesday, November 12, 2013.Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 10.22.49 PM

Class today is all work and mostly play.  Team 1 makes great progress on Adriana Jones, now known as Adriana Jones and the Incan Escape.

Brenton and I put together our team’s presentation for Thursday, including a one sheet, aka “sell” sheet, and a PowerPoint to help us “achieve buy in” as Amy likes to say.

We engage in a closing stand up meeting, agree to each arrive an hour early on Thursday, and finish with our team’s distinctive jaguar roar.

In the courtyard, Samsung representatives put on a “Samsung Galaxy experience.” Since it is lunch time, they admire my Indian food takeout as they sign me in with a near field communications chip on a bracelet. The longest line is to use Samsung phones and tablets to design custom laundry bags. I request the EAE logo on my bag, since I don’t think their policy allows for Apple logos on Samsung ad bags. I also win a two way car charger with a Samsung logo on it. I may not choose the Galaxy phone, but I love Samsung TV’s. Waiting on a 4K!

Amy’s class includes lots of insights into her publishing success at EA with Littlest Pet Shop. I ask questions about how distribution relationships with companies like Walmart work. We end a few minutes early so we can play test Cohort 3’s latest secret game, which includes lots of moving around.

Wednesday.

41D9lxxYnKLJose’s class is now in the Warnock Engineering Building close to MGS North.  After a brief introduction, we hear from two teams on Immersion vs Flow (first half of class) and intimacy in games (part two.)  Jose described achieving Flow as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as the gold standard for game design, noting that this is what Jenova Chen of That Game Company seeks in every game, from Flow to Flower to Journey.

To me, flow is a state where you find yourself by losing yourself in something, whether service to another human being (or all of humanity), play, work or a good book.

Immersion means more to me than environmental graphics.  It involves a new set of rules that you buy into while suspending one’s traditional worldview.

No official definition has been arrived at for either flow, immersion or the difference between the two.  The closest in the reading is the idea that immersion is a roller coaster, where you have little control, and flow is a car or a climb up a mountain, where you have a lot of control.  This makes me wonder if Temple Run is successful because it is part immersion, part flow, a roller coaster that gives you limited control, but the definition does not satisfy me after immersing myself in audiobooks and articles about Flow earlier this fall.  According to the reading, in video games, flow is often achieved when a player is challenged, but not in over their head.  I think there is room for a game that even more perfectly captures the essence of flow.

In regard to intimacy, Jose wants to know what the class thinks intimacy is.  Is it closeness, letting down one’s guard, trust or one of a dozen other suggestions the class has?  How can we take this broad view of intimacy and connection, whether between players or player and machine, and use it to ground our games in reality?  Recent games that make use of this concept in unconventional ways are Brothers, The Last of Us, and Bioshock Infinite, each of which includes a companion character.

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Part of the class also covers Japanese trends like relationship games.  Otaku, we learn, are people with obsessive interests, especially in anime and manga.  In 2009, one Japanese otaku, “Sal9000”, legally married his favorite video game character, Nene Anagasaki of Love Plus.  Nene is an example of a stereotypical “bishojo”, aka pretty young woman, as found in games and anime.  While a bit odd, I’m not sure that is half as strange as Linda, who just married a ferris wheel.

We get into Japan’s love of robots (I had a robot as a kid, see photo), and how the topic of intimacy extends to robots, virtual girl and boyfriends, and virtual pets, from Nintendogs to Pokemon and Tamagotchi.

Thursday.

The morning begins with the good news that my Oculus Rift dev kit is on its way!  With any luck, I’ll have it by Tuesday.

The big story of the morning at MGS South is bagels with pumpkin spread.

Next to that, today is the final round of presentations for prototype three.  As team one, my group goes first and I introduce the group, the game, the backstory, and our influences.  Mark Jarman shares how his art developed for Adriana, the Incan temple with Mayan influences, Kukulkan, and the Kiss of Death. The Kiss of Death character did not make it into the final prototype, but is still in the design for a commercial version.  Brenton goes into game mechanics, and Dayna and Sherry show off live gameplay.  Roger praises our sell sheet.

We listen to nine other presentations, including my favorite indie design of this prototyping cycle, The Drinking Gourd.  Honorable mentions go to Catacombs, The Last Pterodactyl, if(button_pressed){, and the whistling sound effects in Gorge.  Requiem has potential, too, in a commercial context discussed in class.

We conclude with team discussions of what went well and what went poorly over the four weeks of this project.  Everyone worked hard, we have a working, very colorful prototype, and the game is close enough to what we hoped and worked for that I can use it to show proof of concept to investors I meet with in two weeks.

A team across the room loudly cheers the end of their final Sprint 3 meeting, and team one responds with an even louder jaguar team roar.

Roger takes an eyes closed vote on whether we want to know the fourth sprint assignment yet or wait until Tuesday.  55.1% of the class votes he tell us now, so he says our next game must be commercial prototype ready in four weeks.  A representative of Microsoft will attend Tuesday to describe the tools we get to work with, as the game is to be built for the Windows app store, expansion to other platforms optional.

IMG_5236After class, I head for GameStop to take the temperature of the PS4 launch.  My PS4 is in the mail from Amazon.com, but it appears a total of 70 people show up between 6 pm and 12:30 am for the event, about half of whom stand in line starting around 11.  An employee of Red Robin serves strawberry lemonade with real strawberries inside the store, and says he’ll be back next week for the Xbox One launch.

It looks to me like the line is about equal to what I saw for the Wii U last year.  While one GameStop employee says he is not allowed to say how many preorders they collected for PS4 vs Xbox One, another says he expects there will be more present for the Xbox launch because they pushed that console more.  I expect both consoles to sell 2.5 million or so globally by January, a good start.  Xbox is spread a little less thin, so Microsoft will probably have a short term advantage in North America.  Will they stay ahead as the Xbox 360 did or will Sony’s hype machine help restore the glory days of PS2?  Personally I hope all three consoles do well.

Friday.

IMG_5258By popular demand, Jose throws a second Magic the Gathering event for us to study game design in a card game context.

This week, I choose a blue deck instead of white, and experiment with the color of “logic and technology”, though blue seems to have more to do with mermaids and drakes.  Once I have enough water mana, my 0/+7 “Wall of Ice”, flying creatures, and anti-sorcery enchantments give me a significant advantage over my opponent’s green deck army of forest creatures.

I am amazed at how many ways there are to break rules with other rules in one game.  My personal favorite card game is Star Wars Force Collection on iPhone and iPad, released two months ago.  I’m curious about Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft beta as well, but am no more interested in devoting my life to a one game subscription and gaming subculture than to an MLM.  The world is full of games and opportunity.

Arriving home, my preordered launch day PS4 twiddles thumbs on the front porch.  Thanks, Amazon!

Saturday.

I attend TEDxParkCity from 11 to 2.  My favorite speech is by a girl who is changing the game of football, Samantha Gordon.  10 years old, she’s outrunning all the boys and has been interviewed on Sportscenter, Good Morning America, Conan, and others.  Watch her speak here, around the 24-26 minute mark. 🙂

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