Fun, You, and Innovation

Fun, You, and Innovation Logo

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Installing the Fonts

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And now, onto the presentation!

Fun

Nuns Having Fun

So, fun.  It’s one reason we play games.  Having fun usually feels better than not having fun.  So, what is it?

What is Fun?

Fun involves you!  If you aren’t involved, you can’t feel anything, meaning you can’t have fun.

For example, let’s assume you’re playing a team game where if you die, you can watch the action through the eyes of any of your teammates.  Through game chat, you can talk to them and tell them what you see, letting you to continue playing in some sense.  Guiding your team in this way may be instrumental to your team’s victory.

In contrast, so-called ‘cheap’ tactics are frowned upon because, if they’re used against you, then you have no counter.  See unblockable attacks, luck-based missions, and cheats.

Fun lets you make meaningful choices about how you play!  I’m not talking just the big, obvious in-game choices here, like whether to side with Faction Yellow or Faction Blue.  I mean that character classes and units with different roles should feel different.

If being a Rogue isn’t that much different from being a Wizard, and as a designer I’m led to believe that it should be, that’s a missed opportunity!

Also, doing things in nonstandard ways, but ways the game allows, should feel rewarding to those who discover them.  For example, if I get lots of XP for completing missions but very small amounts of XP for breaking pots, then let me break pots to level!  It may seem nonsensical.  It may seem trivial.  But who are you to decide what is fun for me?

Fun is varied!  Any game that encourages or outright requires lots of farming or grinding to proceed is looked down upon.  When I play a game, I want to experience the breadth of spiffy ideas the development team came up with.  I don’t want to be stuck killing rats, or breeding chocobos, or milking cats because the game expects me to have X, but denies me a clever way to get X, instead telling me to farm or grind to get X.

Some people like grinding levels, or farming materials, but most often these repetitive tasks are about as monotonous as the real life chores people play games to escape!

I speak for myself when I say new levels should provide new ways to use old mechanics I’ve honed, as well as introduce new mechanics as prudent.  Even a change of scenery can be enough variety, if done well.

Fun is motivational!  A fun game makes you want to keep playing because it’s thrilling, even if it’s 4 hours past your bedtime.  Though once you realize how late it is, you’ll probably quit.  Unless you’re close to leveling, or beating the boss, or finishing the area, or seeing what happens next turn, or…

What is not Fun?

Fun does not have to be realistic!  Most games are games first and simulations of reality second.  Do I need to understand why Pac Man eats white pellets and food items and runs from ghosts, except when the ghosts are blue?  Not at all!  Would I pay money to do it again?  Under the right circumstances.

Do I need to know why Dr. Wily keeps building robots with inherent weaknesses Mega Man can easily exploit?  Not at all!  The real reason this happens is because it’s fun, and a staple of the series.

Are save points, absurdly large inventory allowances, or regenerating health realistic?  That’s a very rhetorical no!  But they are convenient and are often included to make the games better games.

Fun does not mean always winning right away!  If as a player you never have to struggle or rethink your strategy to achieve victory, the game is easy.  Easy victories can be fun for a short time, but usually make you feel disappointed or bored that you, as a player, weren’t challenged enough.

Games with hard moments force you to stop and think about the situation, to problem solve.  For example, if you’re playing an RPG where you keep dying to a boss, but you learn a bit each time about what you did right and did wrong, this thrill of discovery can still be fun.  But if you feel that you’re making no progress despite your best efforts, fun turns into frustration, and players turn to GameFAQs and YouTube for answers.  Let’s be real, here.

Then there are games that are hard.  See Battletoads for the NES, Dark Souls for XBOX 360, PS3, or PC, or I Wanna Be The Guy for PC.  These games are trials which will test your patience, your reflexes, your pattern recognition, and your sanity.  Beating them legitimately means outsmarting, outmaneuvering, outthinking, and outdoing your opposition.  And you will be a better person for doing so!

Fun does not force you to stop playing!  Game bugs and design decisions can force the game to an abrupt halt before the game should be over.

For example, crashing to desktop is no fun unless it prevents something worse from happening, like permanent character death.  To me, social games relying on energy are fun… until I run out of energy.  That’s usually when I find a new game.

Real life things can interrupt your game, too, but those are outside the scope of the game and this presentation.

However, fun does not feel like an obligation!  Plenty of games provide incentives for continuing to play.  If you pay for a subscription game or play a game that highly incentivizes playing every day, then there’s an urge beyond just fun to keep going.  It’s a compulsion to get your money’s worth, or to avoid losing whatever daily bonus you would get.  You’re stuck playing, you’re trying to squeeze fun out of whatever you’re doing, and you may need professional help to stop.

You

You! Yes, you!

Hey you!  Go ahead and turn to your neighbor, or to your friend on Facebook, or to your favorite feed on Twitter, and say, “Hey, you!”  Just let them know you did so because you viewed this presentation at http://CampbellGregE.com.  They may be confused otherwise.

I said you would be part of this presentation!  And you get to be in the middle of things, just as I said!

Innovation

Einstein Innovates by Showing his Tongue
So, innovation. 
Innovation means doing things differently, which means thinking differently.  Hence, the picture.

Every piece of technology from the pen to the book to the car to the computer required someone think differently and act differently to produce this different thing.

Innovation usually upsets a lot of people who could have comfortably lived the rest of their lives just as they were before this new thing came along.

But let’s focus first on the benefits.  Never underestimate the power of positive thinking!

The ‘Old Days’ of Innovation

In the beginning of video games, everything was new.  There was such great potential waiting to be tapped!  The 1980s and 1990s were the breeding ground of many of the game genres, companies, and characters so familiar today!

In these olden days, innovation was expected.  Invent or die.  This attitude brought many original titles, and many more who wanted to be “Like the Successful Game X, But.”

The reasons are as follows:

First, game enthusiasts ran the companies.  The people in charge of key development decisions at prominent companies at the time were very into games.  They understood that the games industry was about games and the industry.  Nintendo, Square, HAL Labs, and Ape reflected this passion in their games.

For example, the quirky modern RPG EarthBound for the SNES would never have been made if the creative director, Shigesato Itoi, had stuck to more traditional settings, such as medieval fantasy.  He understood that fantasy RPGs had been done extensively.  Rather than trying to add something to a crowded subgenre, he found another setting- the modern day mid-1990s- and went with it.

Second, game companies knew their target audience.  The 1980s and 1990s were a time when video games were intended almost strictly for male children ages 5 to 16.  Gaming companies understood the experiences and expectations of their audience.  They knew what games were popular in the past year or few, and the people at these companies probably played through these games extensively.  These companies knew what magazines were popular, and whose verdicts had the most authority.

This is similar to today, but when the NES and SNES were the most prominent consoles around, people had more common ground.  In the 1990s, the Game Boy was mobile gaming, and Pokémon was social gaming.

Third, consumers expected innovation!  Maybe it was because games didn’t try to simulate reality down to the grittiest physics equation.  Maybe it was because dedicated gamers regularly read the gaming magazines for reviews and opinions.  Maybe it was because there were simply so few games compared to today, meaning a determined kid with money and a Blockbuster card could play every game commercially released for a system and complete a large number of them.

Fourth, innovation was cheaper.  Innovation has always had its risk.  There is a tremendous difference when a game budget is your own disposable income, and when it’s a mere half million dollars for a very expensive SNES game in the 1990s, and when things cost about $100 million in the case of Grand Theft Auto IV.

A major reason for this is the cost to make each art asset.  One person making a full sprite sheet for a 16 bit character might take a week once every pose is determined.  One person making a fully textured and animated 3D model will probably take over a month.

It isn’t just models.  3D games are expected to have more elaborate and detailed worlds, and working in 3D is many times more complicated than working in 2D.  In 2D, the player’s mind can fill the gaps.  In 3D, the game developers are expected to fill the gaps.  This is similar to Uncanny Valley.  A robot that looks robotic but has a small number of human qualities makes these human qualities stand out.  A robot that tries to appear fully human makes its incomplete humanity stand out since the robot is mostly there.

More expensive games are expected to sell more to recover the costs.  Thus, there is more incentive to stick to what works for a given audience.

Nowadays, independent games are expected to innovate, in part because innovation is cheaper there, and because that’s what makes a game stand out.  It’s kinda like old times!

FYI: EarthBound
EarthBound Logo

What makes EarthBound so wonderful?  Let’s do a brief case study on this SNES gem, EarthBound, to get the FYI!

The modern setting!  No fantasy lands of the past or future.  EarthBound takes place on Earth in the mid 1990s.

The humor!  The silliness!  Boing!  EarthBound doesn’t take itself very seriously.  It wants to make you laugh.  See the Mr. Saturns, New Age Retro Hippies, and trout-flavored yogurt.  I’m not making this up!

It addresses you, the player!  You get prompted to enter your own name midway through the game.  Your influence helps your characters in a surprising way!

There are hint shops where you can buy advice on how to advance the plot.  Really.

And of course, there are photo ops.  At important moments in the game, a photo man will drop from the sky and take a picture of your party.  These picture show in the ending with the status of each of your party members, such as alive, dead, mushroomed, or diamondized.  And yes, EarthBound is where I learned to pose for pictures.  “Fuzzy pickles!

No random battles!  RPGs of the ’90s just loved having fights start when you walked enough steps.  EarthBound shows all enemies on screen, allowing you to dodge them if you’re skilled enough.

If you start a fight against weak enough enemies, you just win automatically.  How cool is that?

For more EarthBound: See Roo’s EarthBound History, Roo’s EarthBound Review, and the Happy Video Game Nerd 2012 EarthBound Analysis.

Closing Words

“No game is good because it is a copy.  A game is good because it is copied.” -Gregory Campbell, September 4, 2012

Copyright Notice

Greg Campbell was responsible for all work to create and present this presentation; however, images used in this presentation (except for the Fun, You, and Innovation logo and the FYI icon) are not Greg’s property, but are instead property of their owner(s).

Download Fun, You, and Innovation Presentation (Powerpoint 97, 495K) Download the Fun, You, and Innovation Presentation (495K) Download Fun, You, and Innovation Presentation (Powerpoint 97, 495K)

Download Fun, You, and Innovation Script (Word 97, 62K) Download the Fun, You, and Innovation Script (62K) Download Fun, You, and Innovation Script (Word 97, 62K)

Download the Fun, You, and Innovation Fonts (243K) Download the Fun, You, and Innovation Font Pack (243K) Download the Fun, You, and Innovation Fonts (243K)

  1. April 16, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    Nice post its great…….good job.. 🙂

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