Arcade archeologists assemble! Download these rose-tinted simulations of 1970’s technology for FREE right now on Android and PC…
FROM the same vintage vault as the classic Juggle! comes not one but eight new digital gaming artefacts, recently uncovered and dusted up with a view to perpetuating false memory syndrome in retronauts.
Introducing the Gazmo IV Classiques: two early TV game systems that never were, each featuring four games never released in the early 1970s. Accurately simulated, warts and all, in glorious Monochromatique CRTVision, you can at last enjoy these new old games only now revealed in all their fictitious reality.
The Gazmo IV consoles. The switches and buttons used to select games and options all have a lovely, satisfying tactility to them. A distinctive CRT hum and buzz are heard when you engage the power switch. My intention here was to stick closely to the representation and limitations of Pong and its ilk to create similar games that I don’t recall existing back in the day. They are meant to be ‘of their time’, which means simple and shallow, rough and tough; part of a fictitious console with appropriate options, so don’t expect any fancy-schmancy Achievements and Leaderboards either, oh no; those you have to track yourself.
These ‘alternate realities’ aren’t precision simulations - more affectionate retro-reconstructions. The games, for example, use arcade proportions rather than the more pertinent ‘home’ ones (most are uprights, which wasn’t so viable with the family TV). I added some screen curvature, scanlines (thanks, MAME), glows, trails, burn-in and a vertical hold effect for good measure, partly for feel but also to fill the otherwise empty space. (I did think about adding the burn-in to more accurately reflect usage, but decided that’d be too subtle.)
Two of the Gazmo games: Balldog and Dodger. The Gazmo IV Classiques were made more with touchscreens in mind, specifically Android because it’s far more convenient than iOS. That said, there are also perfectly playable PC versions if you don’t have access to Android devices or the wherewithal or whatever to install APKs.
A page from the Gazmo IV instruction manual outlines the available games.
This page from the Gazmo IV 2.0 instruction manual summarises its games.
Controls Only two inputs are simulated: an analogue dial for movement and a digital button for serving and so on. I tried building them into the console but preferred the look of the central speaker, so instead I have a separate controller.
To use the consoles and play the games, use strokes and taps on the Android devices and, on PC, a mouse and its left-hand button.
The Gazmo IV controller.
Options As was the norm for these vintage consoles, option switches are in evidence.
SPEED affects the speed of the ball in each game.
BAT doubles the size of the small bat (from the default Pong arcade proportions).
BALL doubles the size of the small ball (from the default Pong arcade proportions).
MODE switches between two variations of each game.Choose a game by pressing the relevant button at the bottom. Start a game by pressing the START button. BUT make sure the power’s on first!
To return to the console from play, tap anywhere at the top of the screen - well, in everything except Rally and Slalom on Android, which are slightly different because I tend to play with the tablet turned sideways and inadvertently touch that area to quit, so instead you need to swipe (either way along the length of the tablet) long enough to return to the console (there is a subtle colour warning in case you make a mistake and want to change your mind). I may yet change this to a ‘pinch back’ action throughout.
I found the best way to play is with friends and family, like we used to do around the telly all those years ago (only here taking turns to top each other’s scores rather than then competing head-to-head).
A Brief History of Revisionism I first got the bug for making fake history back in the ‘90s. It was around the time I’d had enough of the overwhelming industry clamour for realism and bloat that started with the 16-bit machines and exploded with PC CD-ROM. I started to look back to basics to scratch my itches.
My combined disinterest and re-interest, suffused with a curiosity as to what make games tick, led to an obsession with minimalism. What was the simplest possible game? The smallest? The game with the fewest toys? The fewest rules? The least complex interface? And so on.
So I got busy and made up, like, a squillion different prototypes: one-button games; one-dimensional games; games using a single toy and no playscape; games using a single pixel… Some with more success than others. OK, few with more success…
There’s something so satisfying about working within such limitations. I had grand delusions of using reductionism to help identify the gaming equivalent of chords or mother sauces or basic ballet positions - practical repertoire rather than theory or rhetoric.
That led to the (still incomplete) Pong 101: a hundred-and-one distinctive variations of Pong (within reasonably appropriate constraints). The thinking here was to study the effects of (mostly) minor but always fundamental changes on a simple toy and rule set.
(I’m also intrigued by Ralph Baer’s ‘Chase Game’ or Fox and Hounds, but there only seems to be limited and conflicting information available.)
My self-imposed rules for making the Gazmo games include:
Keep game and product depth, structure and ceremonies to a bare minimum.
Screen proportions: 353 x 245 pixels (I think I got that from an old Pong simulator).
No object smaller than an 4 x 4 pixels. (But I ended up doubling everything.)
Toy set comprises no more than bat, ball, brick and plausible equivalents.
Keep toy performances simple.
No gravity, cf: Atari’s Rebound (1974).
Counters capping at 15 and 255.
Simple audio synthesis. No music.In the search for authentic jollies I got through over two-dozen different prototypes in the end, some of which I’m hoping to finish off for subsequent consoles. Racer, for example, has a nice feel to the speedy driving through busy traffic, while Pukka feels like it might have more to offer.
Racing with and against high-speed traffic in the Racer prototype. Further consoles will also feature games for two, three and four players (some new; some versions of the established Gazmo games).
The Established Gazmo Games
Keep the ball alive in Rally Mode A. With Rally I wanted to get the ball rolling with a basic Pong-alike and this variant in which you play with both bats seemed as good a place as any to start. This is one of only two of the games played in landscape, ie: with the television at its natural orientation.
To improve predictability and overall feel, the angles at which the ball rebounds from the bats are fixed, determined by where the ball hits along the length of the bat - and rebounding at a maximum angle of around 30 degrees (to the bat) because anything more shallow than that is annoying.
Balldog is a little like Frogger. Balldog provides an obvious twist with the player toy, but I wasn’t so sure how exactly to control the ball. Change its angle? Change its speed? Its position? I like Ralph Baer’s English Button on his original tennis game, which seems to simply affect the height of the ball, so I’m doing something similar. Ish. Basically the ball is moved like a bat, only it regains its original direction when you stop moving it.
Keeping big balls at bay in Keeper. Keeper is effectively a repeated pivotal Pong moment. There’s also a backstory that this game was originally built to assist the 1974 England World Cup squad with their training but they had second thoughts about using it - and, as history shows, failed to win. I like the focus of only three choices: don’t move or dive left or right - especially when I’m left feeling like an idiot for making a move when I should have made none. With practice you can end up feeling pretty cool using a tiny bat to deflect equally minuscule high-speed balls, particularly when the scoreline is tight.
Dodging balls from above in Dodger Mode A.
Dodging balls from above and below in Dodger Mode B. Dodger is another obvious twist on the original Pong rules: avoid hitting ball for high score. This can get pretty manic and the audio effects end up sounding quite musical, almost like drumbeats. It’s loosely based on my old Crumble! game I did for the first Dundee Jam.
The original and delightfully simple arcade Pong instructions.
Chasing a moving brick in Target Mode B. Target is pretty much reducing Breakout back to the core rules and toy set: one bat, one ball, one brick. Again the predictable ball rebounds can help you direct shots. You need to be careful with the low targets and approach them from a more shallow angle.
I tried a few different sizes of brick but eventually favoured this big one because it felt like I stood more chance of hitting it.
Weaving between moving hazards to cross the screen in Slalom Mode B. In Slalom you have direct control over the ball, only this time with a different interface: the ball automatically falls diagonally down and pressing the Serve button pushes it up. It’s Bips! really, which had its origins in Fast Worm Slow, which itself was inspired by an old Spectrum game written in a single line of BASIC.
Using a large bat to keep three large balls in the air in Juggler Mode A. Juggler is meant to be the juggling game that came out before Juggle! - but not necessarily its prequel. There’s no gravity affecting the balls - they move just like they do in Pong; the trick is in making the most of the predictable angles at which the balls rebound off the bat to keep a comfortable loop on the go.
Returning extreme ball service in Server. Server is basically Keeper with the intensity of Dodger. It’s tough but not impossible to hit multiple balls with a single sweep, which is necessary to score high.
I’m still planning to add secret features as rewards for completing challenges (effectively Achievements). For example, Rally Mode B was originally a simple variation in which the top bat moves in a reverse direction, with the idea that you complete a challenge (say, score 20 points) to unlock Mode C or colour overlays or the inverse mode.
The current Rally Mode B has you aiming to keep the ball bouncing in order to wipe out blocks instead. The border is added here to emphasise the slight curvature and glow of the CRT TV effect.
The inverted mode (with rogue net in the centre).
Consoling Thoughts For the console design, the norm for the time seems to be quite plain and black, sometimes with faux wood panelling. I felt more inspired by the cooler, cleaner, smoother, more retro-futuristic look of Nintendo’s Block Kuzushi, the Epoch TV Block, the Ping-O-Tronic and the Société Occitane d’Electronique OC 5000 and Occitel models.
The Gazmo IV 2.0 console as seen from all angles. For the name I toyed with TV GameBrick, TV GameBlock, TV GameBox and TV HotBox, all in the spirit of those TV-centric classics. But in the end I settled for the ‘gizmo’ pun and ‘Classique’ because it sounds fancy and I like the ‘Q’ in it.
I’m wondering if it’s worth making these consoles for real, perhaps through crowd-funding support, but I suspect they wouldn’t be cost effective to make - certainly if I went as far as authentic packaging :D
Which reminds me: I still need to create suitable Gazmo manual and box cover illustrations (something like this) and a flyer (like some of these doozies).■
Man, the crap I hold on to… and share. Like stinky farts.
Many years ago before I had spam filters, I had to manually remove unwarranted shit from my inbox, One day I decided to recycle it and started stringing together the subject of each spam mail with the idea of making some stupid poetry out of it. This appears to be as far as I got, some lines better juxtaposed than others…
My name is Nadezhda
I wish to find the prince
I want to get acquainted with you
Where are you my prince!
I want to get acquainted with you
Meet that someone special today
The favorable offer for you
Set love energy to max
Unlimited power in mating
Fulfil your full potential in bed
Do it like a Cazanova
She wants your ideal loveing machine
No silly exercises needed to add inches to your manhood
YOUR LADY DESERVES IT FIRM
Wet and ready for you all night
Russian ladies for any taste.
You want me? Come to me.
I want you now, tell me reciprocate and get me!
I will be glad if you write to me
Hi cool man!
I wish the good and sated day!
I wish to find my second half
I’m lonely woman
I want only love
I wanted to write
I do not know what to write to you
I can find that that I search
To handle me, use your heart.
I will wait for your reply fast
I’m single and looking for a good man
May be we are for each other
I hope you are also interested
Hi handsome man
I have decided to get acquainted
I want to get acquainted with you
I am a very nice and interesting person
I want to find new friends
I really want to find my true love
I want to know you better!
Do you want to know me better?
Perhaps you could be my new friend
I hope that you will consider
I’m out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message.
Hello my new friend
I received your mail
I have decided to write to you
You were great
Why did you leave early?
I never got acquainted the first with men
People judge you from what you wear
Stop settling for less
You no longer have to watch your diet
No more belly fat on you today
Lose weight without moving a muscle
Don’t be the only guy not using these
You Will Be Glad If You Choose Our Soft.
You don’t know me
I want to love
Impotence will never come back into your life!
Get the Royal Treatment Here!
Get more for your work
More paid, less work
A talk required
Need a serious talk
How many orgasm can man do?
How many orgasm can man do?
How many orgasm can man do?
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Satisfy your lover.
Satisfy your lover.
Satisfy your lover.
Can she have multiple orgasms?
Can she have multiple orgasms?
Can she have multiple orgasms?
Can she have multiple orgasms?
Re: Impotent info
You got no strength any longer to satisfy your loved one?
When you feel that your manliness is already dead, contact us
We know how to destroy even the most destroying ache
Re: Take care of your manhood
Make sure your bulge is significant
The longer your love instrument is, the longer the pleasure lasts
Your tremendous penis will always be on her mind
She is bound to lose her mind over your great size
Tired of having a peanut in your pants?
Be the largest man around
Enjoy the delicious taste of having a monster in your pants.
Your perfect mega beast will be 10 inches at least
Women love making love with monsters even when it hurts.
Having pack of this in pocket means having success with four or even more girls a night
Become virile like a rabbit!
More drive for in-out sticking
Gain more steadfastness
Heat in your pants
Your excitement will break ceilings
Fulfill your true organ growth potential
Reveal your full male power
Its time to focus on something new
The bedroom doesn’t smell like intimacy anymore? Change it.
Your bed is empty? Maybe you should enlarge your little friend.
The night is a time to have fun in bed. Make this fun lasting!
Make her come triple tonight
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GOOD FEEL IS RARE. Feel is in the eye (and all other senses) of the beholder; one person’s meat is another’s poison. So much is ‘red hat’. But ‘Feel’ can mean the difference between remarkable and unremarkable.
Take the iPhone and the Nexus One. In terms of first impressions – visual engagement – the iPhone exudes class before you even touch it. It’s visually stimulating and inviting. Its smooth, shiny façade is dark and mysterious and runs right up to the edges: a smooth, shiny silver frame. It has an attractive symmetry and no clutter: just a small slit at the top and an indented spot at the bottom.
The Nexus sports a banal grey surround, a tiny trackball and buttons that already look worn through use. It all looks rather… meh.
To the touch the Nexus feels cheap. Its matt plastic casing has an odd, almost greasy feel to it. The first time you use the Nexus you have to remove a panel at the back to insert the battery. This act not only feels wrong and unnecessarily invasive, it makes the unit feel more vulnerable.
The iPhone is a solid, sealed unit (arguably a ‘Convenient’ Fail when it comes to changing the battery). It feels streamlined and evolved – an object worth holding and stroking even when you aren’t using it (as people seem to unconsciously do). It’s a good size and a pleasing shape. It has a good weight and balance appropriate for its form. The iPhone is such an even, refined object. It’s almost natural, like a pebble polished over geological time – or curiously unnatural, like an alien artefact from a past vision of the future.
The Nexus feels fake. Its trackball seems extraneous and in use it feels too loose and cheap and slightly gritty, like the ball’s rolling over dirt. It feels like someone’s used, abused and broken it before you.
Sliding between ‘pages’ on iPhone feels good enough to do without reason. It’s all in the details that are so easy to overlook. When you slowly, slightly slide the icons they move smoothly; there’s a slight acceleration, deceleration and momentum. If you let go, the icons snap back with a reassuring speed and, most importantly, a bounce when they hit the edge of the screen. Not only does all that feel good, it makes the icons feel like they exist. (This also reinforces an emotional attachment to the iPhone.)
The Nexus icons move with a disconcerting judder. They start and stop immediately and the whole thing feels uncomfortably jerky. It feels like it doesn’t matter how delicately you stroke the Nexus, the icons move at the same speed.
On the iPhone, however, the speed of the icon motion depends on the speed of stroke. This analogue quality again reinforces a sense of substance. (And the fact that the iPhone acknowledges how you use it in this way is an ‘Alive’ overlap.)
On the Nexus, if I attempt to pull, say, a list of contacts down when I’m already at the top, nothing happens. On the iPhone, there’s a bounce – a tactility sadly missed on the Nexus. To a strict ‘white hat’ wearer this is unnecessary; there’s no point in being so… playful. To those of a sensual disposition, this is essential.
None of these ‘Feel’ Wins make the iPhone any easier to use – any more convenient – but they do make it feel better to use and give it character (an ‘Alive’ overlap). Most of the time convenience is most important, but it’s easy to forgive and forget inconvenience if the feel is strong.
In terms of aural stimulation there’s little to hear. The iPhone’s few basic default sounds are as rounded as the device looks; the Nexus noises are more sparkly, prickly. The sound of the Nexus camera firing is scary, aggressive – so much so that I almost dropped the Nexus the first time I used it to take a picture. The fanfare reinforcing the Nexus shutting down is clipped, which feels clumsy.
Making something feel awesome – so good it’s used regardless of context and purpose – can take time. The something in question needs to be repeatedly used and refined and it can be challenging to identify where the feel might be improved, let alone how to improve it. Making something feel at least ‘not shit’ is a good place to start.
The senses need to be engaged in a consistent manner otherwise not only is feel undermined, the overall illusion is too. To the eyes, ears and touch, a battle tank should feel substantial, like it means business, like it’s capable of fulfilling its known role. (There’s overlap with ‘Drama’ and ‘Convenient’ here; the tank is dramatically enhanced to accentuate its presence and needs to be obviously a tank.) A tank that looks too pretty and fragile, that sounds like a clockwork mouse, that doesn’t handle like it has substance – it isn’t plausible – it isn’t a tank.
The aim is to create the illusion of substance from light. The virtual isn’t real but it needs to feel like it is. The better the feel, the better the connection to the intangible; the more you care and the more likely ‘like’ or indifference turns to love.
It’s all the two- and three-letters words you can make in Quarrel (124 two-letter words and 1,292 three-letter words, stat pervs). You owe it to yourself to know the best of these as they can help you earn prisoners, slay giants and even turn a whole match around. Why, the mere knowledge of their meaning (definitions not included here BTW) may even enrich your life and make you see the world in a whole new light.
The words are spread over two sheets in tall columns and sorted by score (I couldn’t think of a better way to arrange them). You can always re-sort the spreadsheet.
SHIFT-click column headings A and B to select them both.
Select Data > Sort Range from the options up top.
Click the Data has header row box.
Click + Add another sort option to add a second sort option.
Change the sort by and then by order to what you want, remembering to ensure that A > Z or Z > A are consistent.
SO HERE I AM again, quarreling at Calamari Cove, this time with the Elite – Rex, Helena and Kali – and playing in last position (my preference).
It’s been a real roller coaster ding-dong battle. I’m browbeaten and down to my last territory and only two troops (who really ought to be hugging each other for comfort right now) plus one ‘in the chamber’ as it were.
On the face of it, the situation is bleak. But, as is my wont, I haven’t quit because I still believe I can win (because I have before in equally grim circumstances).
Helena’s just wiped out Rex and Kali and is now turning her attention to me, the final thorn in her side. She attacks with seven troops. This is it. Seven against two. Of course I’ll lose. (But I might not.)
I add my Backup Troop for good measure. Now it’s seven against three. Of course I’ll still lose. (But I still might not.)
Eight letters are dealt before me. My gaze tarantellas back and forth across them, picking out potential. I spy J and my heart skips a beat. I see U and G to make JUG and my heart’s racing. I don’t even see the rest of the letters. Helena could have made JUGULAR before or after me for all I know.
The drum rolls, the tension mounts and her troops shout…
BUT I MADE IT FIRST! To win and take FOUR prisoners! I brought down a giant Helena! I’m on the rebound! BOOMshakalaka! I am invincible and emboldened and come back from the dead to storm the island and win the match in style.
Do you HEAR anyone singing? Do you even SEE a fat lady?
Because even when the bastards have ground you down and are circling to pick at your corpse… NEVER. Give. Up.
I’D FORGOTTEN ABOUT THIS. I have nested copies of hard drives from every PC I have ever owned for the past 20-odd years and I recently, accidentally found an anonymously-titled recording dating back to 1996. Hearing it again brought a smile to my face.
I first came across this curiosity when I misdialed a telephone number shortly after BT made one of its many changes to area codes and telephone numbers in general. Instead of my ear being met by the cheery voice of a friend I was greeted by this slightly eerie, official-sounding delivery and my imagination went wild.
To this day I have no idea what it means. It’s probably something utterly innocent, like a power station check or an even more banal reality. But it’s much more fun to believe that I tapped into some secret, significant government installation somewhere in the UK :D
IT HAPPENS A LOT with sweets and me, especially with Jelly Belly but just as easily with, say, fruit sherbets (or sometimes ice cream or, better still, gelato). My mind and taste buds are expecting one flavour, like lemon or lime, but, when engaged, are (typically pleasantly) surprised by pineapple or apple instead.
What’s not so pleasant is when you expect sweet only to be met by savoury. Which got me thinking about colour and flavour expectations and reminded me of when I was a kid and we’d speculate on the flavour of what we’d see while on a lengthy car journey.
The little red car ahead is strawberry flavour. Those Highland cattle in that field are caramels. That speed limit sign is liquorice ripple ice cream with strawberry sauce (or, these days, red pepper stuffed with feta and black olives).
Some obvious colours and likely flavours follow. (I’m struggling to identify some savoury variations here and there.)
This is the Microtalk I gave at GDC this year. It’s a very shallow explanation of The End and The Way, which are touched on in previous posts but merit more extensive explanation and examples in future posts.
I decided to give the sort of talk that I like to receive: lots of pictures; too much information; intriguing but confusing.
It feels like it took a lot more effort to make a Microtalk than a full-blown one :)
First: the précis…
Play is permeating the world like never before. It’s increasingly convenient to play anytime, anywhere and with anyone. Our increasingly playful nature is feeding into everything we do. The world is becoming infused and enriched by play.
The distance between creators and players is narrowing. The two are becoming more intimately entwined, on the verge of feeding each other simultaneously in real time, becoming live performers indistinguishable from each other.
But no matter how we engage players – single players, a few players or a few thousand players; individuals or in groups; in the same space or in separate spaces, actual or virtual; on computers, dedicated consoles or handheld devices; online, server-based, turn-based or simultaneous play; directly or indirectly – we need to think like a player AND a maker: to never lose sight of what we want as a player while doing what we need to do to as a maker to meet those expectations.
Let me tell you about The End I seek and The Way I strive to get there.
And now the Microtalk itself…
All the world’s a stage – and a playground.
And we are all players: gamers as performers.
More kidults have more time and money to play; more ways to appreciate play and express through play.
It’s an exceptional time for play.
We are the most playful society ever.
Because of us.
So many ways to play – and to play with players.
So many ways to make play – and to make play available.
But no matter who plays with whom and how, we always need to think like makers and players.
To do unto others as we would have them do to unto us.
I use two sets of broad strokes every day.
They aren’t a panacea.
But they are handy measurements and they challenge me.
Sometimes they overlap.
Often they conflict and need balancing.
They are obvious. So obvious they are easily overlooked.
They are loose. But there are many ways to skin cats.
The End is thinking like a player.
My five key targets are:
The Way is thinking like a maker.
My five main guiding lights are:
To follow The Way we start at The End…
The End manifests in different ways in different forms.
For basic examples here I’m using Orbital – an awesome reimagining of the interesting Gimme Friction Baby.
On the surface it’s a one-button Bust-A-Move.
In substance Orbital’s so much more because it upholds The End.
Make me feel something.
I want sensory stimulus.
This is such a tactile medium – I want everything I play with to feel tangible, reactive, plausible.
I want emotional stimulus.
I want to feel moved, involved, empowered – like I’m making the difference – like it’s always my fault.
Orbital’s cannon rocks at a better, faster rate.
Shots feel more forceful.
Orb travel and bounce feel more substantial.
You feel just out of control, taming a wild stallion.
You feel just enough in control that success and failure always feel like your doing.
The balance feels right.
Make a show – a performance. Arrangements of moments players want to share.
I want dramatic intent, actions and reactions; anticipation; friction; close shaves; exaggeration; spectacle…
I want punctuation through considered rhythm, pace and timing.
I want to make stories not follow them.
Orbital games vary because you make the playscape.
It’s a heady mix of accuracy and uncertainty. You seldom feel totally safe.
There’s tension with every shot that could be your last – then emotional release when orb and dust settle.
It’s a moment-rich rollercoaster heightened by pyrotechnic displays.
Make it personal.
Don’t leave me alone.
I want a living, breathing joy with a character of its own.
A game that’s attentive and informative; caring enough to anticipate my needs and respond fittingly to my performance, achievements and status.
A game with heart and soul.
Orbital recognises key moments of your making – like serial success and near-death experiences.
It records your best scores within the past 24 hours and forever, comparing your performance against your Orbital-playing friends and the rest of the Orbital-playing world.
It shares your achievements in public through Facebook.
Make it all accessible.
I want to ‘get it’ or be inspired to NOW.
I want to play NOW.
I want rapid results.
I want enough direction that I don’t have to make my own games.
I want chores removed, automated or dramatised.
But never too convenient – that’s too easy and boring.
Real-world themes and rules are most convenient.
Orbital is abstract but at least vibrant and simple.
Toys, rules and controls are minimal.
Starting play and replay are instant.
Shot trails and a grid make it easier to measure virtual space.
There’s no time pressure. You can stop, leave and return any time.
Make a difference.
I want surprise and delight.
A meaningful twist in the concept; the components; the treatment; the look, sound, feel…
That doesn’t mean making everything wholly original. There’s no shame in building on what’s established.
It just means making sure the results are distinctive.
Orbital adds a big twist to a novel turn-based action game: a new rule to enrich feel and drama.
In Gravity Mode, orbs exert a pull on shots.
The result is more risk-taking, near-misses and second chances. More dramatic moments. A more exhilarating ride.
That was The End.
Now let’s take The Way…
Don’t think, talk or write about it.
Play-act. Sketch. Prototype.
Make a board game. Make something to use and edit.
Development is quicksand.
Don’t aim for perfect first time.
Use frequent, measured iteration.
Kill complexity and bottlenecks.
Balance all this with Preparation.
Chance favours the prepared mind.
Make informed choices.
DO to build repertoire, like musicians and actors.
Repertoire is applied muscle – the practised and reusable.
Maximise editing power and the time to use it.
It’s all in the edit.
Toys are the tools of play – objects honed for fun.
Not play is sleep or work.
By thinking in terms of toys, by seeing all around as toys, you think playful – you think fun.
Forget polygons and pixels.
Focus on toys and toy components to make play.
This reminds me to make illusions not simulations.
To never limit myself to recreating reality.
To fake it to make the virtual seem real.
To keep it consistent to make it plausible.
To keep the workings invisible.
To never forget the whole experience – the overall effect.
Define memorable moments.
Use them as design targets and building blocks.
Consider how to best to achieve, chain, pace and acknowledge moments such as:
YOU CATCH the Women’s Skeleton last night? I’m not a sports fan but this was gripping stuff. I only caught it by accident, channel-hopping. (Ah, the joy of serendipity.)
The likes of athletes competing by running in straight lines or around in cinder circles leaves me cold. The winter sports, on the other hand, tend to be far more engaging - primarily because the competitors and events are dramatically enhanced by accessories to cope with extreme playscapes.
The Skeleton is the pinnacle of winter sports cool. It takes the more ‘conventional’ sledding events and cranks up the drama by reducing streamlined vehicles to minimal chassis.
Hurtling down a narrow tunnel of solid ice, faster than speeding cars on a motorway; your chin centimetres from flesh-grating, bone-crunching death; only able to adjust course or brake by using your legs hanging off the back of a glorified tea tray…
I was so there. I could feel the exhilarating speed - the cold glow of the ice on my face - my stomach and sphincter tightening with every close shave.
The commentator - like most of his peers - talked way too much, desperate to fill the space. But some of his observations did work well to punctuate and accentuate the drama (not to mention make the broadcast feel more alive).
Minor ceremonies reinforce key moments. Timings are constantly (and conveniently) compared with the current leader: how quickly competitors start, hit checkpoints and finish the race.
The use of a more recent TV twist - the ‘ghost’ - to directly compare current competitor and leader was at first confusing but soon became obvious and drama-enhancing.
Replays reinforce highlights - and highlight just how dangerous this sport is.
For all its simplicity it’s a potent package.
It’s the duty of the TV coverage to maximise the feel and drama of the sports, to bring the sports alive, to make appreciating the sports more convenient - and preferably to provide a twist.
There have been marked improvements in the past decade, no doubt in part inspired by electronic games. There’s still plenty of scope to go further but I suspect there’s also a fear of going too far and overshadowing and undermining the sport.
TOYS ARE FOR KIDS – all the best dictionaries say so. What grown person in their right mind playacts with dolls? Or plays at war with little toy soldiers? Or with mock weapons, pretending to exchange fire with other grown people?
More and more grown people every day, it would seem…
Since an industry was founded on the exploitation of virtual space for interactive entertainment many aliases have been assumed in a search for identity and mass-market acceptance. ‘TV Games’ became ‘Computer And Video Games’ became the misnomer ‘Interactive Entertainment’… a term that is equally valid to describe conversation or sex or a multitude of other acts involving people or animals.
The truth of the matter is the multibillion-dollar industry in question is dedicated to the next generation of toys, built not from bone, hair, cloth, wood, metal or plastic but an infinitely flexible digital material.
Now the toys exist in virtual space – the ethereal made almost real for people either lacking the imagination to make their own contact or curious to experience first-hand the imagination of others.
Computer technology acts as a receiver and transmitter between the ethereal and real. Through a simple physical interface (a mouse, control pad or keyboard perhaps) the user’s input directly or indirectly manipulates an illusion: a pretend toy set that almost exists - in virtual space.
This new generation of remote control toys has led to more widespread neoteny – the retention of juvenile traits - than ever before. More adults (primarily males) are prepared to playact with dolls (action figures then), play at war, race model vehicles and embrace fantasy environments without fear of stigma.
Perhaps because of the novelty of the technology it’s considered more socially acceptable to play with virtual toys than real or pretend ones. (It’s funny how people prepared to kill and be killed in Quake III - the latest embodiment of Cowboys And Indians - wouldn’t be seen dead playing the same game for real, like kids, with pretend weapons.)
Perhaps we should consider expanding our definition of ‘toy’ – of what a toy means and who uses it. Toys are the tools of the playful. No other discrimination is necessary.
There’s no longer a need for vivid imaginations to access and manipulate ethereal space; no longer a need to make up or set up or tidy up the toy set; no longer a need to make up objectives or fight over who was hit, who was out, who is ‘it’, who is right and who is wrong. The playthings, playfields, roles and rules are more vividly realised. Artificial overseers, opponents and players ready to assume the most banal of roles are readily available.
Traditional toys come complete with distinct, suggestive themes and outline stories but seldom ‘supernatural’ rules – focused ways to play with the toys: defined means of manipulating the toys and definite goals.
Children playing with their toys extrapolate the given theme and suggested rules to make their own entertainment, re-enacting embellished mundane situations and events from existing stories.
The industries devoted to the design, development, manufacture and exploitation of traditional toys focus on realising the basic pieces of the desired universe because they can leave the player to decide how to use the toys within physical constraints.
Virtual toy sets on the other hand must be far more elaborate than the more traditional constructions. The repertoire must be realistic to the extent of incorporating sufficient natural rules (for example, a consideration of fundamental physical laws) to ensure that the toy set functions correctly and conceivable outcomes are satisfied.
Only then can considered supernatural rules be employed to give the player something to do – some appropriate tasks and challenges and dramatic situations to exploit the nature of the toy set and its inherent rules.
The action figures (or dolls) still come in all familiar shapes and sizes and roles - from stout, squat, moustachioed plumbers (Mario) to Lara Croft: the new Barbie and Action Man rolled into one (with undertones of a sex doll thrown in for good measure – and marketing)… Only now these dolls are more conveniently manipulated and come with more exciting poses and noises - not to mention a complete range of accessories, accompanying characters and whole prefabricated worlds and stories to play with.
Now we have more dramatic reproductions of sports comprising detailed representations of our leading heroes - the Subbuteo ‘kick flick’ replaced by remote control pad buttons to perform much more satisfying football moves.
We have the latest F-1 cars, sports cars, tanks and fighter planes rendered in glorious digital forms far more desirable than the traditional plastic or die-cast metal vehicles of old. Small soldiers are no longer frozen in plastic postures - they now appear to live to obey our every order without question.
We have the power to ‘magically’ manipulate blocks and bubbles and balloons. We have expansive arsenals to put even the latest American military technology to shame and can put the extreme firepower to task in purpose-built arena, with cameras inside the action figures’ heads for a unique first-person perspective of alternatives to Cops And Robbers, Cowboys And Indians, War With Sticks For Guns…
Thanks to the digital medium we have all existing physical toys represented with more functionality, more convenience, more flourish… and less demands on imagination.
A future of innovation awaits outside the industry as it stands. People presently exploiting alternative media will grow increasingly familiar with interactive space and bring with them an experience of generating content, a new perspective to create more diverse and captivating situations - and perhaps even some new toys.
I DO SO enjoy playing card games on computers. Apart from being an engaging way to pass the time, they are a great example of how convenience can improve the overall experience of play.
The playing card toys are familiar (and typically the gist or the rules of play are too). You don’t need table or floor space. You don’t need to shuffle or deal or maintain card arrangements. You don’t even need real people to play with. You just need a computer, which is hardly a hardship because computers are like spiders these days – you are never more than a few feet away from one.
My favourite computer card game experience is SolSuite. This collection of variations of Solitaire (Patience) has been around for a few years now, steadily bolstering its repertoire of different card games to the point of bloat and too much choice: 500 variations of Solitaire are overwhelming even though they are grouped for convenience.
SolSuite has all the features you’d expect (customizable everything, for example) and plenty I don’t care about (customizable everything, for example). Tactilely it could be better (moving cards doesn’t feel quite right to me; it’s a little too soggy for my liking). But it excels in feel and convenience in other areas, primarily twists in the form of its shortcuts, most of which I have seen used elsewhere, some of which I haven’t – and those are the ones that make all the difference for me.
SolSuite gives you hints if you do nothing, suggesting where cards might go in case you weren’t paying enough attention. The aces and other cards from the stock or the tableau are automatically moved into the foundation. There’s no need to grab and drag every single card into position; a click of the right-hand mouse button intelligently sends cards to where they need to go.
It’s easy to think that all this automation makes play less involving. The reality is, the act of playing is made easier (because any remaining work is removed to focus play) but the game isn’t too easy to win – there are still enough meaningful choices to make.
I have to say, I’d like to see convenience (and potential drama) taken even further with Solitaire card games. I’d like play controlled so that I get more of those memorable moments where I get to shift piles of cards around to free up different suits. I’d even go so far as to want to know that every game I play can be won (but preferably not via a single linear route). I’m not saying I want every game handed to me on a plate but while completely random and impossible to win card arrangements befit the real thing, the virtual version should be better.
Another example of how convenience can enrich play is found in Word Crunch, an extremely successful word game that Denki did for Sky many years back. Word Crunch was similar to other word games at the time but there were many little twists in the treatment that made it more fun by far.
The basic game is your typical ‘anagram’ fare: you make words out of collections of letters. Like most versions of this game, those letters aren’t random: they form at least one word, which not only provides a great focus – using all the letters to make a word makes for an incredibly satisfying moment. Unlike many newspaper variations of this game that use nine letters, Word Crunch uses only six letters, which tends to make it easier to use them all.
The basic game structure comprises levels and time limits, but rather than have you make every possible word, you only need to hit a percentage target; anything more counts as a bonus. Plurals are allowed so you can reuse words already found by just adding an ‘s’ and that’s a good feeling.
There aren’t too many choices – not too many words to find. The words used as a resource are pre-filtered to ensure there’s a healthy number of words to make: not too many, not too few. Moreover, the word list used focuses on more commonplace words (sequels used more comprehensive word lists but not knowing half of the words makes play much less fun).
For convenient reference, the words to find are arranged into obvious groups of three-, four-, five- and six-letter words. (Completing groups provides satisfying minor objectives for bonus points.) Moreover, the words are arranged in alphabetical order, which might appear to make it too easy to guess which words are missing when in fact that convenience actually adds to the fun.
In the cases of SolSuite and Word Crunch, the increased convenience improves both feel and the necessary drama. Sure, you can take convenience too far, reducing player involvement to that of onlooker – to a state of rest – but that’s down to the skill of the fun fashioner in question.
Once again I’m reminded of the old Indian craftsman who carved elephants from blocks of wood. When asked how he did it, he replied, “I just cut away the wood that doesn’t look like an elephant.” The same approach applies to making play as much fun as possible: cut away what isn’t fun (what’s work and what’s rest) to maximise what is fun.
FRUSTRATION! (by MB Games) is a firm family favourite in our house. We love playing it. Admittedly not so often with my youngest daughter who’s four and plays in her own special way. She can’t help it, which doesn’t sit so well with my eldest daughter who’s six and very serious about playing properly – not to mention winning.
The die-fuelled blend of race and tag is almost exclusively driven by luck. This is ideal when a range of ages and skills are involved as it tends to make all players equal. And it doesn’t adversely affect the fun as might be expected. Our games are typically exciting, not necessarily because the game itself is so clever or compelling but because of the opportunity it affords us to interact and perform with each other. It really is the taking part that really matters.
Playing games so often as a family (and playing Frustration! in particular) has made me appreciate at least the following:
Frustration! is more focussed fun than Ludo.
You get a lot of potent free spectacle when people play together.
The games you play with children aren’t always the ones they think they are playing.
“Frustration! is more focussed fun than Ludo.”
Frustration! looks like ‘just’ a version of Ludo but is in fact a neatly compressed version with two twists that make it more fun, more convenient, more dramatic, livelier and generally feel better. The twists in question are found in the board structure and the die.
The Ludo board is traditionally a cross in a circle, which may well have significant origins but can make for an awkward playscape. The Frustration! board is more streamlined all round. The large dead starting points often found on the Ludo board are reduced to simple, compact lines and no longer intrude on the flow. More importantly there are fewer spaces on the board (seven between each starting point compared to 11 or 13 in Ludo) and they run around the outside of the board in a neat circle, which improves the feel.
The die is contained within a ‘Pop-o-Matic’ – a dome which is depressed and released to buckle a metal plate and ‘throw’ the die. Unlike the more traditional loose die, this constrained version doesn’t need space in which to be thrown and it doesn’t get thrown into awkward spaces or end up at an ambiguous odd angle in a rug pile and need to be thrown again. It doesn’t even find itself detached from the packaging and lost over time.
Taking turns in Frustration! is faster because the die doesn’t need to be recovered after every throw. Not only is that extremely convenient, but the act of ‘throwing’ the die also feels good (it’s incredibly positive to the touch and the ear), makes you feel good and is lively and dramatic. Moreover there’s a dramatic focus with all players required to take turns at the centre of the board.
The pieces sitting neatly in individual slots on the board is more convenient: they don’t tend to get knocked over and it’s blatant that multiple pieces cannot occupy the same space, so there’s no scope for doubling up like there is in Ludo variant Uckers.
There are more spaces to circumnavigate in Ludo, which can be made less boring by using two dice to not only increase the pace of play but also increase the choices in play (dice throws can be combined to move a single piece or split across two pieces; however, what I like about the single die in Frustration! is the focus it provides – the unambiguous results).
I also like fewer spaces to cover because it increases the scope for drama: there’s more chance of colliding with other pieces and winning’s likely to be faster. (We usually play a rule that says you have to bring a piece into play when you get a six, which works well to spice up and speed up play, increasing the drama and convenience of reaching a satisfactorily swift conclusion.)
"You get a lot of potent free spectacle when people play together."
Games played with real people in the same physical space feel better and are livelier and more dramatic than games played with artificial players or real players in different physical spaces. There’s a stronger connection to other players when you are in the same space and the increased convenience of interaction between players outside of the game makes for much more entertainment.
Moreover, all the observations, comments, etc made by the players mean you get so much ceremony for free. Emotionally charged people provide great feedback. There are a great many moments recognised by real players and typically with great spectacle. This performance is as much a part of the game as the game itself (and something that works well with Wii games).
When you are designing a virtual game, you need to (consciously or not) build in some sense of an arbitrator and an audience. You need to consider what moments are likely to merit comment and what form that comment might take. Obvious moments include starting play and ending play through win or loss. Usually you consider more – more moments to emphasise but also more variations of moments (for example, how well players win or lose).
Some key moments from Frustration! include:
When the game is set up (assembled). “Let’s go!”
When the order of play is determined. “OK!”
When the game actually starts. “Hurrah!”
When you release the Pop-o-Matic. (Trepidation…)
When the die stops to reveal a number. “Ah!”
When the number thrown is a six. “Yeah!”
When the number thrown is another six. “Oh yeah!”
When the number thrown is no use to you. “Bah.”
When you bring your first piece into play. “Hurray!”
When you bring your first piece into play after a long wait. “At last!”
When all four of your pieces are in play – and none of them is home safe. (Scary!)
When you are within a single die roll of someone else’s piece. “Hah!”
When you almost catch someone else’s piece and end up right behind it. “Ooh!”
When you get your first piece home safe. “Hurray!”
When you get your penultimate piece home safe. “Hurray-hey-hey!”
When you catch someone else’s piece. “Ha-hah!”
When your piece is brought into play to catch someone else’s piece. “Ahah!”
When you catch someone else’s piece just outside its home. “Ooh, close!”
When someone else has three pieces home and brings the fourth into play. “Uh-oh.”
When you win the game. “Hurrah!”
When someone else wins the game. “Oh.”
And so on (and on).
What’s surprising is just how many moments are recognised by players – moments that wouldn’t typically be recognised by virtual referees or spectators. There are concurrent moments (which don’t tend to happen too often in Frustration!) and consecutive moments – and there are repetitive consecutive moments to compound the spectacle (like throwing multiple sixes), all of which encourage commentary. If only virtual games were as rich.
"The games you play with children aren’t always the ones they think they are playing."
I find there’s a need to play a quite different, quite careful metagame that’s invisible to the other players, acting like a secret DM or DJ, providing appropriate motivation and punctuation with a view to keeping play as flowing and dramatic as possible.
It often means I end up cheating but for the greater good, to make sure I don’t win outright but don’t lose too easily (or too obviously) either. It’s incredibly satisfying and inspires me that there’s great scope for making all virtual games even better.
UPDATE (Sunday 22 November 2009)
I’m now eagerly awaiting the arrival of “Double Frustration” after winning an eBay bid. I’d never heard of it. My expectations are low but I am looking forwards to seeing how it plays.
DAMN, my pizza’s good. I mean: fucking awesome. Every week for the past three years I just can’t believe I made it. Every week I make it and eat it with gusto – sometimes with ferocity because it’s so compelling – and I’m always left feeling satiated but ready for more. It’s a visceral, almost carnal experience. Really.
I let the Panasonic SD-253’s dough program do all the boring work, leaving me to manage the dough at its most sensual. It’s warm and fleshy and elastic – just heaven to handle. The program takes 45 minutes and, to be honest, the dough comes out fine after that but I find leaving it to rest for a further 30-45 minutes makes a noticeable difference – makes the result lighter and crispier.
I experimented with different dough recipes and variations of ingredients to see what effect they had. No salt was bad. Sugar doesn’t seem necessary. Nor does milk. I was initially aiming to recreate two types of dough I like most. I hate Dominoes, Pizza Hut and many other chains. But the thin but bready Pizza Express dough I do like. I also like Ligurian pizza dough, which tends to be drier and somehow more like Middle Eastern flat breads. Now I’m settled on:
3/4 tsp easy-blend yeast
240 g strong white flour
2/3 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
160 ml water
The result is distinctive and delicious. The important ratio seems to be 3:2 flour to water, so 300 g of strong white flour works well with 200 ml of water (and 1 tsp of dried yeast, 3/4 tsp of salt and 1.5 tbsp of olive oil). The dough is sticky but the trick seems to be to not fear using strong white flour to handle it. I stretch the dough to roughly shape it then I transfer it to a baking tray and press it into a final shape: a rectangular thin crust. That rests for 15 minutes to roughly double in size before I add sauce and toppings.
The pizza’s always split into at least two different toppings, sometimes three depending on what’s in the larder. The base is always tomato purée mixed with tinned tomatoes and mixed herbs or a Loyd Grossman pasta sauce (whatever needs to be eaten up really, just so long as tomato purée is used extensively for the intensity of flavour – but it’s always spread sparingly). Next comes mozzarella slices for texture and a little grated extra strong cheddar for flavour.
One half of the pizza topping is always blue cheese and chilli. The blue cheese is typically Danish but others work equally as well. The chillies are almost always green jalapeños – occasionally red. The other half of the pizza topping is usually very finely sliced red onion, very finely sliced peppers and some strips of sundried tomatoes. The important thing is to slice the onion and peppers quite fine, so they almost melt during cooking but the flavour is intense. It’s not so hard or fiddly to do and I don’t understand why restaurants can’t do the same. The sundried tomato strips tend to burn a little during cooking and that’s gorgeous.
Alternative toppings include rocket and parmesan (both added after cooking – the cheese flaked with a vegetable peeler). Camembert or Brie is another (it sticks to the teeth but has this delightfully dirty, slightly musty quality to it). Feta, pesto and olives is another. Very finely-sliced red onion is always used because it adds so much flavour.
The pizza’s cooked for 12 minutes at maximum temperature: Gas Mark 8. (I have to turn it halfway through because our oven’s rubbish at distributing heat.) By this point the base is brown and crisped enough and the cheese has melted and is on the verge of crisping up (but is still molten and moist).
The result is a dough that’s incredibly light and crispy but also tender. It has excellent mouthfeel and is a pleasure to masticate. The toppings are TDF.
Most weeks the pizza is excellent. Some weeks it’s like eating while stoned – in fact, I’m often left feeling a little heady, probably in part thanks to the chillies.
UPDATE (Sunday 22 November 2009)
When using 300 g of flour I now use just over a half teaspoon of salt and a single tablespoon of olive oil with most favourable results.
UPDATE (Sunday 28 March 2010)
When using 300 g of flour I now use a half teaspoon of yeast and a half teaspoon of caster sugar and leave the dough to rest for another hour for even more favourable results.
UPDATE (Monday 15 August 2011)
About a year ago I started using more water (180 ml to 240 g of flour), less yeast (under a half teaspoon), less salt (the same amount as the yeast) and some sugar (the same amount as the yeast). This dough is left for a couple of hours to let the yeast work for longer (although it’s still pretty good straight from the mixing). The result is awesome. The dough also makes excellent flat bread when pressed thin and grilled on a very high heat. Better still, our new cooker’s fan oven goes up to 260 C, which means the pizza cooks beautifully and evenly in around eight minutes :D