This is nonsense and ramble that came to my head while writing something else..
Anybody with children or young adults in the family will have at some point had to turn an Xbox/PC/PS4 off to bring them out of a state of emotional distress. I think there are many reasons why computer games cause distress, while the competitive nature of many only games may be a big factor (there is always somebody better than you!), parents of young Minecraft players know that cooperative games also suffer from this, how many times has that ‘griefer’, or younger sibling, just wanted to destroy your child’s world for fun? . Recently we have seen distress plays a big role in profits, and developers incidentally use what they know about you as a lever to further the stress of gamers. How many times has a 79p micro payment been allowed by an parent because a child can’t beat a friend on a leader board in clash of clans/bejewled/whatever. As adults I think we have some vague understanding of what is happening when we hand over a small payment or data to a game developer and know when to stop. A recent South Park episode exploring this suggested that developers know most adults will stop, but that the model still works because they are not targeting the masses, but perhaps adults with an addictive personality, the ones who will spend hundreds to beat everyone on their board. While this could be true, I would guess the largest chunk of profit comes from kids who don’t really see the shift in gaming business models because this is the way it has simply always been, and a few minutes nagging their busy parents will get them a few quid to buy some weapons.
I think what I am getting at in this confused and inconsequential way is that games can be distressing and there are numerous business model for games which capitalises on that, perhaps they go something along the lines of:
User is given game
User gives data
Data is used to create emotional distress
User is given options. Pay to compete or give more data
This is an emotionally driven data collection exercise, with the hope that this data can be used as a lever to make them pay up, or give more data for leverage. I am over simplifying here, there are all kinds of interesting things that the developers do, including making ‘time’ valuable, pay up to speed up the process or suffer the emotional distress of everyone else make their clan bigger. All these ‘kinds of interesting things’, I find quite immoral for them to be pushed on to children.
I do like games and I do think making things more ‘game like’ could be really cool and engaging. I’ve been following the RAGE project and thinking it’s really cool too, but if gamification really is ‘the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts’ then we have to be really careful about the ‘game-design element’ we use. Causing emotional distress to raise engagement rates might be fine in the games industry but we can’t just bust in to the room and turn the Xbox off in life long education.
I’m not saying any of the 10 points in the infographic are bad.. I’m just, you know, worried. Morals-wise the biggest players in the games industry may not in a good place at the moment and we shouldn’t just follow them. Particularly because in games we can turn off, but when these mechanisms are tied to our education and the institutions that accredited us, the scope to emotionally bully people in to raising the engagement rate of whatever the vice chancellor wants is huge.
• Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
• Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
• Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
• Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.
These include not using the word “free” at all when games contain in-app purchases, developing targeted guidelines for its app developers to prevent direct exhortation to children as defined under EU law and time-framed measures to help monitor apparent breaches of EU consumer laws. It has also adapted its default settings, so that payments are authorized prior to every in-app purchase, unless the consumer actively chooses to modify these settings.
For those who don’t play games this might be a little but confusing. The idea is that currently Google (and I presume Apple) have games that can be downloaded without a cost, but these games still make money for their publishers. Looking at the Google ‘top grossing’ section on the play store reveals that only 1 in the top 50 grossing games is actually paid for (Minecraft). The games that can be download without payment often label themselves as free and the games industry dubs them Free2Play. Although when 49 out of the top 50 Google Play grossing apps are Free2Play it is clear they not only make money somehow, but are actually pretty good at making it. The techniques these games use to make money is through what is called ‘in-app purchasing’. The idea is that instead of paying for a game you pay for items in the game, the game publishers claim you don’t need the items to play; hence Free2Play.
This business model requires developers to design their games a little differently than they used to. In the older, now dubbed ‘Pay once; Play forever’ model there was a set amount of money that a publisher/developer would get from a purchase of their game. In the Free2Play model the developer has the task of tempting the player to buy more in the game, and they do this buy leveraging peoples natural desire for achievement, those that pay get further quicker than those that don’t. Another way to tempt players us to dig into the desire to compete and beat their friends, a closer look at the Google play store shows that the top games are all linked to social media sites such as Facebook. Those that have played Candy Crush might familiar with the game map those shows which level friends are at and what score they got, it does not you how much they paid for items to produce that score, giving those that pay the advantage in their social network.
Players find themselves in a game that is pulling on natural desires to compete and gain status. The only way to win this game is to pay and the EU want to make it clear that when you pay and what for. You could say that the game techniques “strive to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure.” Which funnily enough is the exact sentence used to describe Gamification at Wikipedia.
The games industry is young has moved at an extraordinary pace, the technology and business models that fuel it changing radically many times since the first video game console was connected to a TV some 40 years ago. You could say that this the quick pace has given both industry veterans and consumers a keen eye for social problems rising from these changes. The push back to Free2Play initally came both from industry veteran’s such as Ian Bogost’s work in what he calls his work on ‘Exploitationware’ and from consumers alike and it feels good that something is being done.
It doesn’t quite feel this way in other industries. A few months ago I got some free Facebook advertising credit, and while I was sure this was a way for Facebook to show me I could spend money with them to ‘leverage my natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery..’. I wanted to experiment with it to see what exactly they were doing. I decided not to write the results up at the time as the whole experience made me feel pretty sick and I decided it would be best to reflect and leave the write up for later. What I can say now is that the experience did make me realise that while Facebook was free to sign up and use the end user is basically the product, being used to generate data for Facebook, sell adverts to or to be a unwilling research participant. The same is true for Twitter and the like. Instead of an EU inquiry to techniques employed by these industries we can say something along the lines of ‘that’s the sacrifice I make to see pictures of my grandkids’ or ’I’m happy to let Google know where I am 24/7 so my phone can constantly tell me the nearest place for real ale’.
We find ourselves playing similar games in education, and as a gamer I find it somewhat bizarre that the term gamification is often used as a positive thing in the education world; as if underhand techniques pulling on desires of desperate students to hit your key performance indicators is a good thing. I feel the techniques are somewhat worse in education then gaming as the things we try and get them to do are more complex than that of the ‘share and pay money’ the game industry wants. In the game industry the deal seems reasonably straightforward, I want to be entertained and compete with my friends, in return I will pay for the upper hand. But what is the deal to students who find themselves trapped in the games their education institution is playing with them? Our system says the best students are the ones that pay £9000 a year and play the game exactly as we say and institutions are telling them to play the game in a way that improves the institutions prospects and not always the students. The well known example being the student feedback form where students were implicitly told that negative feedback would effect their chances of getting employed, what can they do?
I think perhaps the games we find ourselves in with social media companies and education are somewhat entwined and not easy to pick apart.
The stakes at risk are much covert than those in the app industry are much more dangerous. My hope is that a serious look at the death of free2play may expose some of the morals behind striving to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure.
You know those people who establish dynasties so powerful that their names echo through the centuries? I am one of them. – El Vice Chancellor
Sim University (U.S name: Theme University) is a series of hit real-time strategy simulation games created and developed by a one man indie outfit. The game play sits at a crossroads between SimCity and The Settlers.
In the latest installment, Sim University 5, the player is given the role of El Vice Chancellor, a character with a CV full of honorary doctorates who has been installed to preside over the Democratic People’s Republic University. In campaign mode a different scenario is presented to the player at the start of each mission; the player is typically responsible for developing the University towards a certain goal, in early missions the goal is set by the cabinet of the fictitious country in which the University is based but as the game progresses these become crazy schemes that El and the Capitalists (See: Factions) dream up at the end of the previous scenario. Each scenario typically involves the building of new buildings, satisfying the staff/students’ needs, issuing edicts and embezzling funds from the treasury; all while keeping various powers and non player characters happy. At the end of each scenario a final score is determined based on the overall happiness of the students, the size of the University’s treasury, obnoxiousness of the VC’s personal number plate, size of the Vice Chancellor’s Swiss bank account and number of ‘friends made in high places’.
Money will be needed to achieve the scenario goal and it is generated by students, ensuring these students are trapped in the system is an early objective in most scenarios. Tools such as the ‘sexy course name generator’ will only be effective for shot periods of time and the player will need to invest in ways to trap students in ‘the system’ so they continually pay up. The few needs students have are represented by floating meters above their heads, the effects of a low aggregated score of these meters will have negative effects such as the sacking of El (Game Over!) or less students numbers (which results in less money coming in for things such as sexy license plate – and therefore a lower score). All is not lost though as effects be negated using a number of edicts that El has access to, such as rigging surveys or simply declaring that a league table doesn’t count.
The University will need staff to teach the students, these staff also have meters that represent their basic needs and the extent to which they are being met, these link to the catering quality (hunger), office quality (housing) and entertainment, furthermore each staff member has an affiliation with a political faction, which links their respect for the VC to the happiness of the faction’s leader and how well the faction’s goals are being met. The factions are as follows:
Communists: Mostly the lowly support staff and lecturers of the University. Communists like to see more people employed, everyone with an office over their head and a low-income disparity. While it is not that important to keep these happy it will stop the odd library closure, toilet malfunction and will stop Unison invading your University (which ultimately does nothing anyway). You can use edicts on the communist class to improve the entertainment meters of the capitalist class (see: force uniform edict)
Capitalists: The upper class citizens of the University. Like to see luxurious offices, high-class entertainment, and a growing treasury. Can be difficult to replace if they get upset, and often require an ‘embarrassing secret’ to keep in line. The Capitalist faction is valuable for keeping wealthy degree tourists flocking to your University for honorary degrees which in turn influences the Cabinet opinion of you, which is important to stay in power. Throughout the scenario missions your capitalist advisers will usually end up arrested, exiled or kidnapped and replaced with clones forcing you to start again from scratch for the next scenario.
Intellectuals: The educated staff in the University. They like high quality lectures for students and need high liberty ratings to stay happy. Generally a small faction.
Militarists: The security staff in the University. They like the University to be an ‘orderly’ society (the average safety rating higher than the liberty rating) . This puts them at odds with the Intellectual who prefer more freedom and less military presence. High militarist support is needed for special actions like declaring Martial Law.
Loyalists: El’s die-hard fans. They value a strong and pompous Vice Chancellor, and think the idea of elections, free or not, is generally preposterous since El is the only candidate you will ever need.
The game is reasonably well balanced and I enjoyed the first couple of missions, the problem is that Sim University doesn’t give you enough reasons to replay each scenario as the game progresses they are predictably similar. Unbelievable and crazy scenarios are laid out in front of the player mission after mission, expecting the game to let up at some point you eventually get bored of the repeating pattern.
There is often talk from those who grew up in 80s UK kids about the good old days of gaming before the large development houses and multimillion pound projects. I was born in 1984 so perhaps I was a little late to the party, but I still join them with fond memories of gaming in the late 80s and early 90s and playing games.
The scene that is often described by them is very interesting. There was a boom in computers entering family’s homes, you could pick up a computer such as the C64 or Spectrum that would plug into a TV for around £120 – £200, which was substantially cheaper than all in one machines such as the Apple II that included a monitor and other . Primary schools in the UK had also recently gone through a phase of bringing in similar computers such as the BBC Micro, giving kids good nagging fodder when hassling their parents for one claiming they could use it for homework. The truth is that most kids didn’t have homework on their mind, they had games.
Popping along to your local Woolworths, WH Smiths, Boots or even newsagents and browsing through the budget game sections is a popular memory that often creeps up on retro gaming websites. Many gamers remember distributors such as Mastertronic who charged all their games at £1.99 or £2.99 (extra pound for something special).
The time is often looked back on fondly by developers too, magazines would come with print outs of code which you could type in to your home system to make them run. If you were clever enough you could write your own games and send them in to the magazine and get paid if they got published. Publishers were also on the prowl for talented games makers and the really good games would get to join the ranks on the shelves of Woolworths. A crash in the computer game market in 1983 saw the collapse of many game development studios allowing hobbyists to get their foot in the door. In this era the some bedroom coders became mini-superstars with names such as Matthew Smith (Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy) and Jeff Minter (Attack of the Mutant Camels) becoming well known. This scene started to die out around the early 90s. The industry recovered from the crash and new development houses and consoles started to dominate over bedroom consoles and home computers. The strict rules and high costs to develop for popular consoles such as the NES left the bedroom coder behind.
The bedroom coder is back
We often look back on the state of things with such fondness that we don’t appreciate the state today. The support for cheap hardware and access to cheap games reminds me very much of my happy 80s days. During the 80s cheap machines of their time were around £200 and while machines hadn’t been that cheap before that time it is apparently the same as spending £600 today (according to measuringworth) more than enough for a budget computer, or if you wanted to get a true budget games machine you could purchase an android gaming device such as the Ouya for £99 (don’t tho).
Magazines no longer print code to help you get started with a project, but there are plenty of code repositories, tutorial sites, forums and online courses to get people started . Woolworths, Boot and WHsmiths no longer sell games from budget publishers but that doesn’t mean that the indie bedroom coder doesn’t have a market place. All the major digital distribution channels allow submissions from indie games, some are even geared towards having indie games only!
Looking back at my game purchases for the year most of them are games by independent game developers much like the purchases I would make as a child with pocket money in the early 90s. I remember buying packs of games where I would pay a little extra to get a few bonus games. This reminds me somewhat of the humble bundles I purchase today, you pay a few quid to get 5-6 really high quality indie games.
Going forward the trend doesn’t seem to be stopping, on the one hand the marketplace for independent developers is getting so swamped its harder to stand out, but those with great ideas and skills to carry them out are getting themselves known and seem to be making a living out of it. I wonder if in twenty years time the kids of today will be looking over it as a time of great creative and opportunities.
I’m a big fan of the indie game Natural Selection 2 and the developer Unknown Worlds. Originally I think they were a group of modders who created the absolutely fantastic Natural Selection mod for the original Half Life. Following the success of Natural Selection they decided to make a commercial version out of the sequal Natural Selection 2. I’ve followed the NS2 story for a long time, the developers had it rough, they put a lot of work in to NS2 as a Source engine based game only to find that the engine didn’t do what they needed and decided to build an engine from the ground up. Due to this change it took a long time for the game to see the light of day and I’m sure there were many funding scares along the way.
I was an early backer of NS2, it meant i payed more for the game than usual (although they gave me a free copy, some super special skins for my character etc) but the early backing system kept them afloat long enough to release the game. They’ve tried many different ways to raise money now the game is live, but none of them have upset the balance of the game and they’ve never sold extra content, extra content has always been free for everybody. They also hosted events for the community and they’ve come up with initiative ways of helping noobs/casuals play without being stomped on by the hardcore.
Because of this I’ve always had a lot of time for Unknown Worlds and was really pleased to hear today that they have been working on a new game. The game is called Subnautica and is currently in pre-alpha, which means there is a long way to go. Unknown Worlds has a habit of showing things of really early, which is great for gamers because we get a glimpse of things to come, but I wonder how the developers keep their sanity when they get feedback on really early builds.
I’ll let you head over to the Unknown Worlds site to check out most the information and screenshots, but apparently the game is a underwater adventure and here is one of a player interacting with underwater creatures:
It looks beautiful! The NS2 engine makes the game look fantastic so I wonder if the base of the engine is related. Looking forward to more info as it comes out. I wonder if this will be Oculus Rift/VR enabled, it seems the sort of game that might work with it. Until then here is a clip of me getting owned Natural Selection 2, in case you are interested in seeing it in action if you have never played it:
In video games the moral compass is a usually a character or narrator who passes judgement on the players actions. Probably the most famous moral compass is The Walking Dead’s Clementine (who recently got a
mention on BBC). I really recommend the The Walking Dead, forget preconceptions of video games you may have, game is a really bad word to describe it; it’s more of a story and if you enjoy stories you really should check it out. In this story you play an escaped convict who has to survive in this post-apocalyptic zombie filled world. Quite early on you meet a young girl called Clementine, who you must protect. While Clem might relay
on your strength and knowledge she quickly becomes your moral compass as you make decisions on how to survive. Whatever decisions you make during the story you will always be a father to her, the game never breaks this bond between you and Clem but this makes it so much harder when you made a tough decision and she looks at you with those eyes. The art director of the Walking Dead is the brilliant Derek Sakai, he has a children of his own and the idea of Clem was loosely based on her and the interactions he has with her (although the character is a creation from multiple brilliant people at telltale games). I read an interesting quote, which I can find reference to on the web, but unfortunately can not find the original interview. David’s quote was some something along the lines of: the less he hears his children say, the smarter he believes they are.
Clementine is a very quiet character, her silence is often the biggest clue to what she thinks to your actions. Sometimes, when you do something awful, something that you must do to survive she voices her disapproval; it’s times like this the player feels they are robbing her of that moral compass, yet it’s for necessity. Not only do you need the food/need to escape/etc, but one day she will be an adult and be forced to make similar decisions to survive. Sometimes however, she doesn’t say anything. When the adults loot a strangers car for supplies they don’t desperately need Clem doesn’t say a word. Her silence is the biggest judgement on the adults of the story. Times like this in the story are the worst, when Clem looks on not speaking out, it to let the player know not only are we robbing Clem of her compass, but the characters have already lost theirs.
The students I mainly deal with come from a certain sort kind of University. It’s hard to explain why these Universities are of a ‘type’. Perhaps people would call them ‘widening participation’ Universities, I went to one myself. They do not have large student unions and often I feel the students are subdued. I was wondering recently why they don’t have a voice. I know a University where the students have put up with a lot of turbulence. The students don’t come from privileged backgrounds, I hear some pretty harsh stories of how they have been treated, both inside the institution and out. Yet still they march on, not saying a word. As a tutor I find it difficult to be hard on these students because I know they are already having a difficult time, but sometimes I know I need to be honest even if it isn’t what they want to hear. I wonder when they’ll tell us they can’t treat them the way we have anymore and that they’ll voice their disapproval. I hope that day comes soon because the silence is worse, as somebody involved in education I feel that when they don’t speak out I’m not preparing them for anything, just robbing them of a moral compass when we’ve already lost ours.
The video game market is changing. A few years ago making a game was an expensive business, too expensive for most development teams to pay up front. So developers went to a big publisher to get some money to create the game, the publisher would then publish the game and take a large cut of the profits. The major problem with this (apart from publishers taking the majority of the spoils and developers often going bust) was that publishers didn’t really care about games the same way developers did. Publishers care about money and if they weren’t sure that your game was going to sell a ton of units there was no incentive to publish it. This lead to the great FPS flood of the 7th generation of consoles. FPS games sold well, so these games would often land publisher deals, games that looked like they showed a spark of something new and innovative were often left behind.
Fortunately the “Publisher rapes developer” model is being challenged. I’m not saying the state of the industry is perfect. I mean is anyone happy with how Microsoft continue to mock Rare fans by forcing them to work on Kinect Sport games? It’s almost like being a really talented singer being forced by a contract you signed to with to lick a hammer to sell records. How about EA selling games at £45 a pop that have been engineered to make you lose unless you fork out for extra weaponry to use online. But still the tide is turning. Indie developers can use tools that have low entry costs such as Unity or UDK or even develop their own tools if they are so inclined. They can then publish the games created with these tools to a variety of different distribution systems such as Steam, GameTap, Android Market etc without falling foul of EA.
Micheael Cusack demonstrates exactly how gamers feel about Microsoft and Rare. Microsoft purchased Rate from Nintendo (which was one of the few great Publisher-Developer relationships)
I am well aware of how the disruptive nature of new technology challenging business models didn’t really work out well for the little man in music industry. I still worry that the publishers of old will still find a way to take advantage of small time developers to fill their coffers. Microsoft and Sony are both opening the doors to their new consoles indie developers, but binding them by rules. We are seeing distribution systems such as iTunes pushing and pushing the in-app purchase model on developers. It shouldn’t be this way! Developers should be calling the shots of how the distribution model works. Systems such as in app purchasing force developers to develop their games in a certain manner. How do we get the player to buy an extra life or that weird chocolate sprinkle candy that destroys all the candy it touches? That’s all well and fine if that is how the developer wants to create their game, but how can we ever call something an art if its creation is based around the way we are going to sell it? All is not lost. There are developers who are publishing games on their terms. Taking advantage of the new business models that they want to and ignoring the ones that will harm their games. I’m sure there are loads of indie developers out there working out cool ways to publish their games and we will see them come to the forefront soon. At the same time we are seeing a rise in new hardware that the publishers of old don’t have control over. Here are a few things I find interesting:
Telltale games: Episodic Content
A lot of media comes in an episodic format; you can buy books, comics, movies and TV shows by the episode. You can even skip an episode if you wish! I find it very odd that games, up until recently wanted you to part with £50 for a full experience, but only let you get as far as you could. If the level 1 boss keeps killing you then good luck getting the rest of that £50’s worth of entertainment. Can you imagine not being able to read book 2 of Harry Potter if you didn’t understand a word at the end of book 1?
I can understand this to some extend as game design often doesn’t lend itself to letting people skip ahead, but I still think it’s odd that few developers allow to buy games in episodic chunks. Sony tried it with the brilliant Siren: Blood Curse, but quickly backtracked when it didn’t look like an instant win.
One developer who has seemingly mastered episode content is Telltale games. Telltale is an independent developer, founded by ex LucasArts employees who are specialists in adventure games. They acquired the rights to work with well know Intellectual Property such as Sam and Max, Money Island, Homestar Runner and produced high quality adventure games based off them (with the exception of their Jurassic Park game, not quite sure what went wrong there).
Instead of reaching out for the usual major publishing agreement they decided to release their games in episodes on content delivery systems. This gives their games a wide audience as the games are released on a wide array of different platforms. As well as having their games available for download without DRM restrictions Telltale pop their games on Steam, Gametap, PSN, Live, Wii Shop. Depending on the content system you can download individual episodes or grab a season pass which allows you to get all the episodes for cheap.
Telltale usually release a new episode in a game bi-monthly, so far so good as they haven’t missed a deadline.
Double Fine: Releasing games they want
Double Fine is an independent developer founded by LucasArts legend Tim Shafer. I don’t know what it is about Lucas Arts, but I guess now it seems many of their mid 90s employees are doing incredible things. Double Fine look to publishers for the traditional publisher-developer funding model, but not wishing to be stuck doing games they don’t enjoy developing branch out to other funding models when needed.
They are most known for crowed sourcing funding for their new adventure game coming out in 2014 called Broken Age. Unable to get a publisher to take the risk of putting money up front for a 90s style adventure game they asked the players to pay. Tim’s fame on works such as Grim Fandango got him the funded he needed.
The most interesting development model they took was to create a bunch of prototype games that they would like to develop further. They got players to donate money (minimum of $1, which went to charity) to vote on the prototype ideas they liked the most. These ideas were developed in to small prototypes which a donator got to download and play. The most successful of these prototypes would then go on to become fully fledged games. While this model might not pull in money to fund the games creation (as it went to charity) it did raise awareness of the games and asked the audience directly what they would like to play; this resulted in a $400,000 take in sales when one of the games developed using this stratergy hit Steam Greenlight.
Steam Machine, Ouya and friends: consoles and cool tech for Everyone
Perhaps it is a little naughty to put these on the list as these are innovations taken by hardware manufacturers and publishers. The Steam Machine, Ouya are both examples of hardware devices that have low entry requirements to develop for. There are lots of these consoles coming out, and lots of interesting accessory such as the Oculus Rift (a VR headset created by crowed sourced funding) heading to them. I think what I’m trying to get at here is the fact that content management systems aren’t the only thing opening up for indie developers. We are seeing a lot of new hardware that has very low entry requirements for as options for them to develop for. It was reported that on the 360 Microsoft charged $40,000 to developers to patch there titles, as an indie developer would you like to sign up to that kind of cost? This charge was eventually dropped, but surely only because Microsoft could see these hardware alternatives that are much more cost friendly to the up and coming indie game developer.
So what does the future even hold for publishers? We’ve seen the big wigs hold on in the music industry. This must be because they have the ability to market music better than the individual does. But do games have the same need? The trump card for the music industry is getting bands played on the radio or a TV performance. What is the video game equivalent of the radio then? If it’s the Let’s Players, then the publishers are in for a shock. Perhaps this explains why Sony and Microsoft’s were so desperate for Twitch TV on their consoles.
When I first heard about the Oculus Rift I was sure that Virtual Reality had finally made the mainstream. At $300 with affordable development options it was sure to take off. I knew why the Oculus Rift was cheap and that was because it uses cheap components! The components are cheap because they are already being manufactured in the huge quantities for the production of smart phones. So if the components are cheap, why don’t we build them ourselves?
First we have to think about creating the headset itself. To create a VR headset like the Oculus Rift (the current version, the next version will have some new bits!) we need a screen, accelerometer and gyroscope. All of which you will already own if you have a recent smartphone. You could simply buy a holder for your phone!
The Durovis Dive (http://www.durovis.com/dive.html) is simply that. Its worth checking with Durovis if your phone has the correct bits of hardware and is the right size. If you so happen to own a 3D printer you can print one using the opendive project files.
If you don’t have a 3D printer and can’t afford to buy a holder from Durovis but have a history of making Screwfix models you could try making a viewer using the instructions at FOV2GO, a project by the University of California.
For the Oculus Rift I like to make web based content. I’m not sure how you would send the tracking information back to Android/Ios browser if you decided to make one yourself. Working with apps isn’t so bad as Durovis have created a library for sending tracking information back to apps themselves, you can download it here for a play. There is also a Unity plugin which you can use, but obviously you need a version of Android that can create android/iOS apps which I think will start to cost you money. If you want software already made there seems to be a few apps on Google play that work with phones being used as VR devices.
I’m interested in where this is going to take us. I think the Rift is here to stay, it has a good financial backing as well as backing by some well known game developers. Perhaps we really are seeing the start of indie/do it yourself gaming devices. The Ouya and Gamestick might not have been everything we wanted, but with steam machines around the corner open consoles and accessories could be an interesting space.
‘What is art?’ may be well trodden ground, but well trodden ground many of us feel excluded from. Is art something about mastery? I don’t think it is; but I think that mastery is one of the major blocks that excludes us from the conversation. An artist is not a master of a single thing, a thing which has been accepted as “being art”. They say that the quartet they saw was absolutely perfect, the only perfect quartet, and they know that because they know of such things; of such things which we don’t. There is a saying that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but the idea that mastery has something to do with specialisation in a certain area is the second block keeping us from the conversation. Mastery is more a sureness of purpose, but then not all artists are sure of what they are doing.
So a while ago I played Gone Home. Some people got angry that it wasn’t a game, some people loved the fact it wasn’t a game. But we all still call it a game. It was reviewed on game sites at the least. ‘Game’ is a limiting a word as ‘Art’, in fact even more so. “Are games art?” may be a fight the video gamers are determined to win, but why are we? Lets break down the barriers to be confronted with more barriers. Gone Home is many things, a story, a challenge, an adventure, interactive. Most of the reviews agree that it hadn’t mastered any of the things it set out to do; but it was sure of it’s purpose.
So the reviews are in two camps; those who gave it a 5 for being art and those who gave it a 1 for not doing game things too well. I was just glad I didn’t pay full price. What should I give it? My heart is telling me that it shouldn’t get a grade, because that is my point! Should I exclude you all, do I know such things? But anyway my brain tells me that my Google rank will be higher if I give it a grade, because a grade is a thing that Google will see in a rich snippet. So that’s what art is. something we can explain with microdata for Google to pick up and pass around.
A new breed of game wants us to know that sometimes it is more fun to lose than it is to win. These games play on the fact that every time we lose we learn something new and a story is told. I think that this a place educational institutions should explore, but until then this is a list of my favorite games where losing is fun.
The game sees the players creating an managing a Dwarf Settlement that is drawn on screen using ASCII text characters for its graphics set. This means that developer can throw in new things for the player to manage such as items/characters/monsters in to the mix without having to worry about how they look on screen.
This means there are a lot of items and characters in Dwarf Fortress to worry about, what makes things hard is that they interact with each other in increasingly complex ways. Players will struggle to manage the complexity thrown at them and the Fortress will eventually fall, but a cool story will emerge from the ashes.
My favorite fortress collapsed when some of my dwarfs adopted cats as pets. The dwarfs refused to let me turn them in to cat pie. The cats fell in love and had babies; when then proceeded to have more babies, who in turn had another litter. More of my Dwarfs adapted cats and there was no going back. Soon the fortress was full to the brim and the dwarfs couldn’t work without tripping over a little blighter.
Project Zomboid is a retro zombie survival game. While it may look retro it doesn’t play like it. It’s a zombie survival game with RPG elements. You have to loot houses, build defences and look for foor and supplies. As the game goes on the hoards of zombies get bigger, the power supply goes, fridges and taps stop working. Fortunatly your survival skills also get better as time goes on, so while you can no longer drink from a tap, you can start building rain collector.
The game can come to an end at any time. Desperate for a drink you forgot to read the label of your bottle? Maybe you just drank bleach. I like the fact you don’t always know if you’ve messed up or not. Am I feeling dizzy because I’ve spent to long in the rain and the feeling will pass or should I be worried about that scratch from a zombie.
Dayz is a multiplayer mod for the game Arma II. A mod so popular it boosted sales of the original game by 300,000 in two months. The aim of the mod is simple; to stay alive in a zombie invested town as long as possible. While it may sound like this game is going to be a lot like project zomboid, it isn’t. On one level it would seen there is less complexity to be found in Dayz than Zomboid as there are less items, less places to loot and no things to build (except to rebuild a helicopter or car, which is as hard as nails). However, the game is multiplayer and the difficulty lies in surviving the other players. There are limited number of items to be found in the game world and a friend can be quick to stab you in the back when they discover you have a stash of those all important bandages.
The map layout in DayZ also adds to the creation of a story when the player eventualy loses. All players start near a beach, making it a hotspot for bandits hoping to loot your starting gear. If you survive the early game player controlled bandits you have to make choices, each choice can bring death. Do I stay in the woods where the zombies are scarce but the food even more so? When should I risk a trip in to town or the hospital? DayZ isn’t a fast paced multiplayer game but your life depends on everything decision both you and your fellow players make. Every time you die you’ll remember the decision you made and the player or zombie that took you out .
FTL takes its inspiration from science fiction series such as Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. You manage a small space s
hip crew delivering enemy war plans as they are chased through space by an army of rebels. The gameplay is split in to ‘jumps’. Each jump is a through space and a step closer to your goal. Each jump also runs the risk a space battle with pirates, rebels or
unfriendly aliens. In these battles you must micro manage your crew in a captain kirk style. You make decisions such as should more power go to the guns or sheilds? Should there be two officers in the Engine room in the hope of speeding up your escape or should one be sacrifieced while putting out fires? The consequences of each decision will haunt you in future next jumps. Was it worth sacrificing that crew member for some money to upgrade your rockets?
Faster than light can be won but it isn’t easy. Every time you lose in FTL it will either be because you made a mistake when choosing your course of action or because the constant damages from jumps has brought you down. Both lead to a great player created story of defeat!