Games and Interaction design

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I've been reading the throughly engrossing A Brief History of nearly everything by Bill Bryson, and its set my mind free-wheeling back to afternoons sitting on wooden stools in heavy blazers trying to bend my head round curiously abstract concepts while trying to avoid getting caught spraying hydrochloric acid on friends eyes through a bunsen burner.

Anyway one of the things that utterly terrifies me is the sense of scale you are dealing with in the universe. From the subatomic particle level to the intergalactic level, when comparing these sizes to the everyday, its nearly impossible to get any comprehension of the big picture. This in turn got me thinking about the presentation of scale within games and other interactive systems. These kind of systems could provide the ability to present scale in a way that helps our poor heads really fathom whats going on. I guess the most recent attempt to present continuous content over a wide range of scales would be Google Earth. I love google earth. If I had had access to this as a child, I would probably have had a far greater understanding of where things are. Its actually FUN to move around the world, zooming in, finding where you live, where you grew up, how many shops sell pork within 20 yards of oxford circus etc. Because the content is displayed continously, you can relate street to street, town to town, county to county, country to country, contintent to continent in a seamless manner that really gives you an overall understanding that is lost when trying to combine understanding using seperate mediums such as an A-Z, Atlas and globe.

This isnt the first time I've been given the opportunity to explore from the very small to the very large in such a manner. I remember the first time playing Peter Molyneux's Black and White. Zooming in to see invidivual faces, and then zooming out to see the entire planet was an amazing sensation. And now Mr Molyneux plans on showing off further, with Black and white 2 allowing you to zoom in to INDIVIDUAL ANTS. I hate ants (i seem to attract ants like candyman attracts flies... still no idea why), but its a nice idea. This kind of superhuman ability to massively zoom in and out is something you can only do in interactive systems and is real fun.

Will Wright, perhaps a bit threatened by Peter's performance, decided to go coder hunting in finland, obviously recruiting some insane talent to help him recreate his next visionary title "Spore". Have a look at his presentation here. Not content with ants to countries, he is now attempting to have a scale range from the cellular to the galactic (check out the vid.... you can scale out from creature level to at least solar system level continuosly). And it seems to work remarkably well. Obviously theres an insane amount of artwork that needs to be used but by using procedural generation techniques this doesnt need to be created manually. One particularly interesting thing though is that with this range of scale, you have numerous different systems that interoperate with each other (eg you have personal combat interacting with social groups, interacting with inter-tribe warfare), so theres an insane amount of emergent complexity.

Of course, for sheer enjoyment of change in scale, nothing beats Katamari Damacy, where not only your viewing perspective changes scale but also your AVATAR! Never played a game where you can wreck such pleasant revenge on a bloody cat that kept knocking you about when tiny. (never picked up the taj mahal and eiffel tour before either i guess).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mystery future eyetoy device

ive had my interest piqued by this post by nr (mrs?) fort90. no one told me the future was already here

Monday, September 26, 2005


If you've not had a chance to play with Sketchup, I'd strongly recommend it. Its very easy to use (theres a free trial too), and this would definitely appeal for someone relatively new to 3d. The premise is a 3D sketching tool. Its essentially a tool for blocking out 3d layouts. Originally geared towards the architectural market, its now making headway into the the level designers toolbox. What really sets it apart is the easy ability to draw on existing surfaces (circles, squares and polygons) and the push/pull tool that massively simplifies creating booleans. It also exports to 3DS and OBJ formats, and produces a nice clean set of UVS, giving you the perfect point to tidy the mesh up, texture properly and polish.


Been having a think (following up from a previous post) about the kind of systems that are in place in interactive pieces (from games, toys, tools, educational lessons, er....). Thought I might have a play listing as many as possible (to expand on further) as it might provoke a few ideas. Hopefully theres a few systems that havent been explored that might lead to some form of innovation. I guess they all have to be systems that allow for some form of conflict.

So, without further ado.... a list of systems and simulations

Logic - Sudoku
Physics - Half life 2, Scorched Earth, any Golf game
Sports - could this be a special case?
Verbal - Word search, crossword
Urban simulation - Sim City
Personality - The sims
Social groups (small scale) - Friendships, bridge clubs etc - err DOA beach volleyball?
Social groups (medium scale) - Local and national organisations, interest groups
Social groups (large scale) - Politcal organisations, international organisations
Business and economics
Dating - numerous pervy japanese titles
Battle (small scale) - SFII, Most beat em ups
Battle (medium scale) - Most tactical titles, squad based titles
Battle (large scale) - RTS, Epic war-games
Weather systems - wow. be in control of air pressure... create sunny weather, hurricanes, cyclones etc
Gardens - now we're talking! recreate the blue peter garden, fill the bird feeders... how relaxing
Animals - Cross-species competition, breeding etc
Evolution - wasnt this done somewhere?
Creative success? - reputation as viewed by critics of your work?
Teaching, mentor/student relationship
Fire - how it spreads
Mixing of liquids
Resource collection of animals - Bees pollination

Shadow of the Colossus (And Wanda)

Thers a nice little feature on 1up covering the making of Shadow of the collosus. One of the things that really struck me was the ambiguity of the main characters motives. As the article mentions:

Throughout this process, though, it slowly but surely begins to dawn on you that these giants have done nothing to harm you. And as you grab them by their fur while you climb their backs and rest on the bizarre platforms jutting out of their bodies, before ultimately finding their exposed weakness (typically a glowing spot on their head) and driving your sword into their brain, you realize in an odd way that what you're doing isn't as chivalrous and magnificent as you thought it would be when you first set out.

How refreshing. This (and Fahrenheit) seems to be adopting some more subtle storytelling techniques and moving away from simple good/evil clean-cut methods.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Nintendo... the apple of videogames?

Much as I'd like to spend most of the day writing about the possibilites of the nintendo controller, one of the most striking trends is how inspired the controller design appears to be from Apple's process of interface design for their products. The way that Apple took the mp3 player, subtracted the superflous and streamlined the interface by selectively integrating functions, Nintendo seem to have done exactly the same. What is particularly impressive though, is that while the ipod was effectively a far better device for doing exactly the same thing, Nintendo's controller simulatenously provides massively enhanced functionality with its ability to capture gesture, so the resulting device provides ipod-like ease of use and accessibility while providing the core gamer with an entirely new model for video-game interaction and hence new game experiences.....genius.

Rise of the boutique development team

One of the most enouraging trends that seems to be becoming more apparent over the last year or so is that a viable alternative to the predicted 100-strong teams of the next-generation seems to be emerging. One shining example is one of the most interesting titles to emerge from this years TGS, Loco Roco . Created by an 8-10 strong team (including dev-blogger greggman ),
this title was created in only 4 months preproduction and 4 months full-scale production, from initial concept from 1 game designer, prototyped by a single programmer. This type of development is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the small budget allows far greater risks to be taken than with other titles... if the game doesnt cut it, theres not a huge amount at stake if it does need to be cancelled. This stimulates experimentation and innovation. Secondly, the small team size means that everyone involved, not only gets input into many aspects of the game (encouraging cross-pollinisation of ideas across different disciplines), but they also have a strong sense of ownership... they can really say "I made that... I created that...", which increases morale and encourages great work.

This formula seems to be exclusive to the handheld console market (titles such as brain training, ouendan) and the PC Indy market (such as gish, which admittedly bears a strong resemblance to Loco Roco...) but one of the really encouraging aspects of the next-generation is the opportunity for a network distribution channel (as flirted with in xbox live arcade), allowing companies to massively cut their distribution cost. This is something strongly supported by Greg Costikan in his recent rant, and brings back personal recommendation and word of mouth as a major factor in games sales (with any luck).

This could eventually lead to a new period of innovation as ideas and creativity become highly valued and sought after to differentiate titles from the glut of genericism. Making things easy for potential new developers is obviously key (and is something that Satoru Iwata seems to encourage going by his keynote at TGS).

The Burnout experience

Well its that Burnout time of year. This time, however, beyond the usual iteration on PS2 and Xbox (is there a gamecube version this year?) theres also the release of Burnout legends on PSP (and a DS version I believe, but dont know much about this one).

I've spent the last couple of days with both of them (admittedly more with the PS2 iteration), and while I've thoroughly loved the home version (although perhaps the road-rage Moses feature is a little bizarre) the PSP version does really feel like its missing something. I was really looking forward to this on the PSP, but now that I've taken it for a spin, it seems to be a classic example of creating whats possible (basically a slightly inferior PS2 port) rather than creating a tailor made game for the platform. While in basic form, its the same game, theres something really missing that detracts from the experience. Burnout for me is the extreme feeling of speed, its a really visceral title. Its frantic and all about trying to react to things flying at you at an insane pace. Your eyes focussed on a pinpoint area on the screen as it grows into obstacles, targets etc. It feels more shoot-em-up than driving game. But the PSP title, presumably due to technical limitations of porting the title, has had to drop some of the things that made the experience what it is. Firstly they've dropped the framerate from 60FPS to 30FPS. This is a *shocking* mistake. It totally trashes the feeling of speed as you dont have the same amount of information being chucked into your eyes, and it really breaks the connection with the screen for a game like this that is so much about the senses. Secondly, they've got rid of the blur effect when you are boosting. subtle as it is, it really triggers something in your perception, to tell you YOU ARE GOING FAST. With both these changes, its really lost it for me, and taken burnout legends down to a fairly standard battle racing game.

Games meets Interaction design

I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar as part of the london design festival, the primary focus of which was to examine the disciplines of interaction design and games design, and to see where there is an intersection, what opportunities there are for cross-pollination of ideas. The event comprised two presentations, one from Ben Cerveny which looks like it might have been an adaptation from his reboot presentation "At play in the garden" . Ben began by examining the process of play, proposing (IIRC) that interaction is a subset of play, and by describing the components that comprise any given interaction. It was a fascinating presentation, Ben is a fast talker! Wish I'd taken some notes now, admittedly.

The second presentation was from from Durrell Bishop, a partner in LuckyBite , (who appear to be based about 2 minutes away from my house). Durrell's background seems to be more focussed on the physical aspects of interaction design as opposed to screen based, and he has been a senior tutor on the interaction design course at the rca . He gave several examples of his work, and some of the work of his students (a lovely finger puppets example from Philip Worthington . Check out the lineriders example too. v tasty ).

The ringleader for the event was Nico MacDonald , who did an excellent job of fielding some disparate and passionate contributions from the presenters and audience. The majority of the audience was from the interaction design field (as opposed to games) and there was definitely a feeling that they wanted to get involved in the game design process and that they felt shut out somehow. Some examples of the crossover of interaction design companies with game creation came with the use of amberlight to tune the experience of both eyetoy play and singstar. I'd argue that interaction design is not ignored or excluded by game creators, but that interaction design is implicitly part of game design. Game designers HAVE to have an indepth and intimate understanding of interaction design for the player to have a meaningful experience without the awkwardness and barriers associated with bad interaction design. I guess however their knowledge is less formalised than that of a pure interaction designer.

All in all, a valuable event, look forward to the next talk "Point and schtick : can interactivity make you laugh?" on October 20th.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tokyo glow go-go

Not remotely up to date, but want to play with images now i can stick em on the blog. this is from roppongi hills in tokyo, taken around a year and a half ago. its a very tasty mega-lcd style display of impressive scale. what the numbers represent is not apparent immediately, but after a while i reckon me and kate cracked it...... it seems to be from the lifts in the complex

First blog

Well I was getting *fed up* with valuehost's appalling service, so it was about time to move over to something else. Might make sense doing it in a proper blog service rather than that flash one I'd knocked up before. i'll probably publish over to flash in the long run but in the meantime, this should be fine. plus the added bonus of the ability to add comments, nice easy RSS support amonst the other things. and its hopefully never going to go down :)

god that was tedious. finally moved over all the posts from my old system to blogger. definitely looking forward to putting a lot more images on this now. hopefully will break up my hideously monotonous writing style ;)

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Saw Sin City this afternoon (totally loved it) and it got me thinking a bit about the relationship between style, maturity of form, target audience and marketing. david jaffe had a bit of a discussion about the need for style to involve an audience on his blog recently, but how far can you deviate from the current standard expectations of game graphical style and still be able to sell in any quantities? i guess theres a few style/setting/presentation types that have an established audience (modern photorealism, whimsical fantasy, dark science fiction, exaggerated cartoon), but if someone was to release a game that goes as far stylistically as sin city, would people leave it alone on the shelf? im guessing the relatively poor success rate for rez, killer 7, and XIII do suggest that they're harder to sell. could this because of a lack of an establishment for critical analysis of games? im looking forward to seeing how well everyone loves katamari damacy sells in europe. PLEASE let them back it up with a decent marketing campaign.

Assembling a game engine together

I've finally pieced together some of the major ingredients i've needed for a while to make what I hope will be a nice engine for rapid prototyping of ideas. take one bit Collada renderer (for importing models and animation created in maya), add one bit Novodex physics engine and spread liberally with SDL (for managing windows, initialising opengl, joypad input, sound etc etc). It was a bit of a headache to be fair, and has certainly forced me to review my knowledge of c++! but should form the basis for a couple of ideas ive wanted to try out that have been beyond the scope of virtools or director. ive got a rough playaround version of mott and baileys working, letting you fire cannon balls to smash down castles :) now the fun bit begins!!

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I've just finished watching the first series of lost. and i can honestly say that i despise it. i have never felt so utterly cheated by a tv series in all my life, its SHIT. what portrays itself as an intriguing mystery suspense series with supernatural flavours (ala twin peaks) is nothing more than a collection of badly written tv minidramas about a bunch of whinging self-obsessed totally unlikable 2-dimensional losers (with the exception of charlie), sewn together into a soap opera, dragging the audience along like a stubborn puppy, with the promise of something interesting happening THAT NEVER DOES. even the season finale shows nothing of any interest. you CANT make series like that! you arouse the interest of the audience by portraying it as one genre, while feeding them a bad example of a genre they are less likely to be fans of.

i think charlie brooker summed it up best.


Was playing rez through again the other day, looking for inspiration on how to do abstract environments and visuals tastefully (or perhaps looking for ideas to steal), and thought it might be time to join the kandinsky name-checking mass of game designers and follow up on the ending tag-line ("dedicated to the creative soul of kandiksy"). Not really paid much eye-time to the guy before but was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of similarities between the work in this rather tasty portfolio and the work of
scottish eduardo paolozzi, whose "turing series" work i fell in love with at the tate modern. (also tagentially tried to follow up on wittgenstein, another inspiration for paolozzi work). anyway, the real attraction for me was the fact that the paintings to seem to take representational form of behavioural and dynamic systems (things like physics engines, character animation etc). there seems to be a direct link in my head somewhere between what he painted and the way that certain things behave. so whacked a few on the wall to stare at when my mind has turned to dirge.

also came across the rather nice fort90 blog, and while there looking for information on den-sen (a game seemingly about a girl flying round the power cables of japan on a coat hanger doing god-knows-what), apparently one of prince of game design keita takahashi's favourite games, despite having never been released) i came across these early prototype videos of k-project (that evolved into rez...k stands for kandinksy). anyway ive mirrored them here to deliberately flaunt copyright.

k-project prototype 1

k-project prototype 2

k-project prototype 3

Yet more katamari worship

Takahashi's Keynote speech from GDCE written up by Kieron Gillen.


I'm really enjoying Alice's blog, wonderland. always a great read

More books and pieces

Been reading through a few more books for general inspiration and interest. I'd definitely recommend Burton on Burton, covering (obviously) tim burtons career up to sleepy hollow, it takes the form of an extended interview, split into different films or sections of his career. highlights are definitely coverage of his work on edward scissorhands, his early work at disney and working on vincent (his first short and wonderfully personal), the pee-wee herman film (no idea this was burton!) and his general attitude to working and the role of creator in general. If anything it has reassured me that a high level of drawing skill is no essential to convey character, idea or even mood. it seems just enough skill to express yourself is required, not photorealism. that said, burtons drawings are very very charming.

Also picked up the Art of howls moving castle (stunning as always).

Keita Takahashi continues to blow my mind

Read his cat-peripheral-based solution to the granny game design challenge at GDCE here