Game Journal 1.3: Your Life As A Game

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In my previous game journal post I explored a game I hate to play, listed all the reasons I hated it, and then offered ways to fix the things I didn’t like.

Exercise 1.3

Today’s exercise challenges you to list 5 areas of your life that could be made into a game. Then give a small explanation of the game structure and rules that you’ve designed. So here it goes.

Area 1: Dorkie Yorkie

Every morning when I wake up I find myself in a mad rush to get all my things together and get out the door in time for work. The biggest obstacle I face isn’t always the traffic (although Northern VA has bumped up to the number 2 spot in the country) but my 8lb Yorkie who I affectionately call Steven Tyler. No matter what tricks I seem to pull, he never wants to come in from our fenced in back yard. He’s constantly chasing the fence line we share with a neighbors dog — barking madly of course — and runs away defiantly any time I try to catch him.

So this first game is called Dorkie Yorkie. You have a timer that’s running out in the corner of the screen and your job is to try and lure your dog back into the house before the timer runs out. You’ll have a side menu of items you can use to try and get the dog inside but depending on the weather, if the neighbors dog is outside, and how hungry/tired he is, he’ll respond to the different items to try to entice him with. The faster you can get him inside the more points you get which you can trade in for bigger and better items in your toolbox. Each time you successfully get him inside you advance to the next day aka the next level.

Area 2: Green, Green, Green Light

As I said earlier traffic in our area is a huge buzz kill. Northern Virginia and the Washington, DC area has been bumped up to the number 2 worst traffic in the US. I find the amount of time that I sit at red lights frustrating along with how long it takes the driver at the front of the light to actually GO once it turns green.

This game is called Green, Green, Green Light. It’s a timed racing type game mixed in with a bit of Simon Says. Your job is to get through as many consecutive green lights as you possibly can without running a red light. If you hit a red light you have to stop and wait for it to turn green again. If you run the red light you get a 30 second time penalty. Your goal is to get to your destination as quickly as you can and before the timer runs out. For each consecutive green light you make it through you get time bonuses. Hitting pedestrians, other cars, trash cans, and anything else will give you extra time penalties.

Area 3: Little Space

One of the things I like doing in my spare time is designing floor plans for my dream barn and office space. What I struggle with most is getting everything to fit into the size space that I can actually afford.

Little Space challenges your ability to efficiently and logically fit items into a small space. Think Tetris meets a birds eye view approach. Instead of blocks you have cubicles, conference rooms, barn stalls, bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, fireplaces, stairs, etc. The interior spaces, dimensions and sizes would change depending on the floor plan you’re attempting. All interior spaces could be rotated 90 degrees. Some buildings would have multiple floors which you could switch between to place interior items. The goal of this game being to get all of the interior spaces into the floor plan in a workable layout (ie you can access each interior space and no doors/windows are blocked by another interior space). As the levels progress the number of interior items you have to fit into the space grows the space gets smaller.

Area 4: Color Palette

Recently my mother has taken to learning watercolors. In her attempt to learn she’s asked me to try my hand at them as well. The task is a bit time consuming but relaxing as well. One of the things that always bugs me is how dirty the water gets when I switch paints.

Color Palette is a game that challenges you to match colors on the canvas while keeping your water that you use to clean your brush from turning a certain color. So it’s a bit of a two for one challenge. As you match colors on the canvas you get close to completing a picture on the canvas. When the picture is completely colored in you win the level. But you have to rinse your brush between each color you put on the canvas. Every time you clean your brush and match the color you’re not supposed to you get a strike. Three strikes and it’s a game over. With every three successful colors you add to the canvas you can choose to clean your water (or leave it the way it is). The challenge is to see how many pictures you can “paint” before you strike out.

Area 5: Conversation

I’m running out of ideas here so this one is my really reaching idea. So I spend a fair amount of time talking/emailing the members of my various games in a day which is the only way I can think to tie this one into my life as a game.

So Conversation is a multiplayer game that gives one person in the group a conversation topic and a direction in which to sway the other players about the conversation. They have 5 minutes to present their argument for or against the conversation topic. At the end of the 5 minutes everyone takes a vote for or against the argument. If they have the majority of votes they win a point, otherwise they loose a point. The game goes three rounds, with each player getting a chance to argue a conversation topic in each round. The person with the most points wins. If there’s a tie those members go head to head in a speed round until one person looses their argument.

Ehh, I know this last one is probably a bit of a stretch but it’s all I could come up with. It would probably need a lot of play testing to get conversation topics that could be swayed one way or another based solely on the presentation of the argument however if you could find enough of them it might be worth expanding upon this idea.

Flash FIX: Pre-loader Not Pre-Loading?

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So I recently added a flash pre-loader to one of my games and I noticed that it wasn’t pre-loading like I expected it to. It turns out if you have any movieclips, graphics or components in your flash file and you have them set to export in frame 1 they’ll load before your pre-loader code starts running. So the solution is to deselect the Load in Frame 1 checkbox on any movieclip, graphic or component that you’re exporting to actionscript.

Flash AS3 Tutorial: Remove HTML Tags

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In my chat room one of the problems I ran into was formatting messages (ie adding font colors) but preventing users from posting HTML tags. So I came up with this nifty function. Run it on their content and then add your HTML to the resulting string. This way their HTML tags are ignored but yours aren’t.

private function stripTags(str:String)
	var validAlphaNumericRegExp:RegExp = /</gi;
	return str.replace(validAlphaNumericRegExp, "<");

Flash AS3 Tutorial: Convert Hyperlinks to Clickable URLs

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In my chat room I was having a heck of a time getting my regex to reliably convert hyperlinks to clickable URLs in my textarea component — sometimes it would chop off anything after a & sign or a question mark and other times it would convert text following the hyperlink into a URL as well. So I thought I would share my working solution with you. Below you’ll find a function that does the job the way it should.

private function convertURLtoHyperlinks(str:String)
	var urlPattern:RegExp = new RegExp("((http|https|ftp)://(\\S*?\.\\S*?))(\\s|\\;|\\)|\\]|\\[|\\{|\\}|,|\\\"|'|:|\\<|$|\\.\\s)","ig");
	return str.replace(urlPattern, '<a href="$1" target="_blank"><u><$3></u></a>$4');

Game Journal 1.2: Games You Hate To Play

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Exercise 1.2

In my previous post I analyzed how I play, how someone else plays and then compared and contrasted the two. For this exercise you’re supposed to find a game you hate to play. Describe what you don’t like about it, why you don’t like it, and how you feel it could be improved.

The Thin Line Between

So I used to be a fan of Farmville when it first came out. It was something I hadn’t seen before and harvesting my strawberries gave me a good excuse to jump onto facebook and check out what was going on. However that quickly became a love/hate relationship. I absolutely can’t stand Farmville now and here’s all the reasons why.

  1. God that song. It repeats over and over again to no fricking end and it’s so upbeat that it reminds me of a poor attempt at a fake smile.
  2. Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat. Hmm I’m starting to see a repetition pattern going on here. Other than a different image and a different amount of gold from harvesting one crop over another this game is extremely repetitive.
  3. Time spent versus actual reward. So I wait 8 hours for a watermelon to get to harvest and then I only get 200 some coins for it? I find it takes way too long to advance through the game and the rewards don’t feel worth the time I spent waiting for them.
  4. There’s no point to the things you can buy. Buying a goat doesn’t mean you have fewer weeds and building a barn doesn’t enhance how quickly you can collect coins from your animals — if you can collect coins from it at all. What’s the point of letting people buy something that doesn’t effect anything else? Why would I want to buy something that doesn’t do anything?
  5. Damn you request messages. Would you send me a special green chicken or visit my farm to speed up the time it takes me to harvest a crop? Sure — if I didn’t have 15,000 requests all demanding the same thing. Famville you do a great job at sending me more spam in one day than all my email addresses combined.
  6. Specials that aren’t so special. So… how does a green chicken do anything more than your typical white one? Oh wait, it doesn’t. Why would I pay $5 for a green one that doesn’t do anything when I can get a white one that doesn’t do anything for free.
  7. Bad company reputation. I know this isn’t a mechanic from the game itself but it’s one of the reasons I don’t like it so I’m going to add it anyways. When your company motto is along the lines of “don’t make it, just take someone’s good idea and drown them out with a larger advertising budget, resources and staff” you get a big fat F in my grade book.

Suggested Improvements

Okay so the easiest thing is to go down the list.

  1. Please change your song, or at least add a variety of music to the game so I don’t have to listen to the same thing over and over again. Maybe a sound off button would be a good choice too? I shouldn’t have to turn off my speakers just to have an enjoyable experience with your game.
  2. Yes I know the game is about farming but a bit of variation never did anyone harm. Maybe you could harvest certain plants for their seeds rather than coins, or sell them to friends. What about adding dead/wilted plants into a compost pile to make fertilizer, or even using crops to create or trade for another useful object in the game. Emphasis on the useful.
  3. If I spend 8 hours waiting for something I sure as heck want something more than a lousy 200 coins. How about a rare seed, or fertilizer or even a random event (for good or bad, anything to break up the monotony) that occurs as a result of being crazy enough to keep coming back to your game.
  4. If I’m going to buy a goat please make it meaningful. Perhaps cows could decrease your growing time or increase the rate at which you accumulate fertilizer — something other than taking up space you could be using to harvest crops.
  5. Limit the number of request messages a person can get in a day. Or at least stop sending me requests until I’ve answered (aka declined) the requests I already have. Maybe add an option to opt out of requests completely so I don’t have to be constantly bombarded with them.
  6. Make your special items special. I don’t care if the green chicken doesn’t do anything more than run around and infect the other animal’s with it’s zombie virus. Heck, zombie animals could be crazy awesome.
  7. I would really love to see what Zynga’s game designers can actually do — besides taking someone else’s hard work, re-vamping the graphics, and calling it a brand new game.

Heh, after writing this I somehow feel as if I’ve just gone 10 rounds with Zynga in a boxing ring. And the winner is….!

Game Journal 1.1: Become A Tester

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So I recently got my copy of Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton back from a friend and while I was flipping through it I remembered one of the reasons I bought it and would recommend it to anyone interested in becoming a game designer. Inside she has a lot of little exercises for game designers and one of her suggestions is that you start a game journal. So what better way to improve my game design skills than to do all the exercises once or twice a month and share them with you? So… here it goes.

Exercise 1.1 – Become A Tester

The first exercise is all about your experience as you play a game. It asks you to observe yourself playing a game (videotape yourself maybe?) and make a list about what you’re feeling and doing as you play. Now find a friend and watch them play, write down what they’re doing and how you think they’re feeling. Analyze the similarities and differences between your notes. What can you learn from this?

My Observations

So I spent about 30 minutes playing Skyrim (yeah I know not long enough but the mage path is freaking hard). The first thing I noticed was that I’d setup my surroundings before I even started playing. I made sure I had a drink ready, my PS3 controller was charged, and that I’d hit the lights to get the best atmosphere and reduce glare on the TV screen. Next I curled up on the couch with one of my dogs beside me and I was ready to go. As far as the controller was concerned there was an occasional button mashing when I was low on health or need to give myself a quick potion. Now as far as I was feeling — it depends on where I was or what I was doing. I don’t like waiting for all the loading screens so I typically take a sip of my drink or pet my dog during that time. When I’m exploring the world I feel a mixture of boredom and excitement. I don’t necessarily like having to discover a location before I can fast travel to it and the amount of wolves that are spawned can be ridiculously repetitive. On the other hand when an arctic bear runs up to me and nearly kills me in a few hits I find myself fixated on the TV screen. Later as I explore a new cave I keep expecting a Dragur to jump out at me around every corner and I was constantly on the lookout for traps. These caves give me the creeps but they’re the best place to find new Shouts so my need for the new ability typically outweighs my hesitance to enter.

Watching Someone Else

Later that day I watched my 70yo grandmother play a game on her ipad. Recently I told her about a Spider Solitare app and she’s been spending hours on it ever since. I notice how she seems totally engrossed in what she’s doing and how easily she navigates around her ipad. I feel I should mention she had a computer back in 1991 when having a personal PC was still a pretty new concept so that probably makes her a more advanced computer use than most. Her hands fly around tapping the screen and making swiping gestures pretty frequently. Her expression is pretty calm but every once in a while she sighs or mumbles to herself when she thinks she’s out of moves or can’t find a good move to make. Every once in a while she looks up from her game and converses with me or my mother also sitting in our family room. Overall she appears to be enjoying herself and is completely appears focused on the task at hand.

Comparison: Similarities

Both me and my grandmother enjoyed our time playing games and we played the game with relative ease. In addition we both felt moments of frustration or expressed an emotional response to the game we were playing. We both used a mixture of physical action (me with my controller, her touching her ipad) to interface with the game. Both of us were focused on what we were doing and both of us had momentary lapses in our focus — me petting my dog during loading screens and she pausing her gameplay to join into our conversation..

Comparison: Differences

I purposefully picked two extremes for this exercise. I’m from a younger generation of computer use and she is not. My interactions with Skyrim were done with a controller and hers were gestures made on her ipad screen. To state the obvious, we were playing two completely different games. While I setup my environment before starting to play my grandmother simply sat down where she was and started playing as and where she was.

The Analysis

This exercise is really an observation of our physical/emotional responses and interactions with games. Despite the obvious differences between myself and my grandmother we shared more similarities than differences. Despite our frustrations we play and continue to play because we love the challenge and emotional response these games evoke in us because playing games is fun.