Production Analysis: Market

When producing a game, it’s often expected within the industry that one should design for a particular audience (rather than for yourself or just for people like you) and of course this is the case if you are working for a client and the game is a product to be sold. The market and audience for a work is determined by the intention of the work, and my intention is to simply produce a game that showcases my skill set and creativity that can be displayed on my portfolio – but in this case the target audience would change, likely from the conventional game playing audience to prospective employers. In this case, the problem is how do I research effectively to deliver a project that achieves my intentions?

Unlike in the design field, when working in the creative sense, one is not necessarily seeking the ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ – to a designer, the problem would be the unidentified market and the solution to conduct research; to a creative, the “Problem Centric Approach” may not in fact be the optimal mindset according to Barker (http://folksonomy.co/?permalink=1365) who argues that in fact “confusion, contradiction and incompatibility can be celebrated” if we take on the act of continuous self-reflection and make ourselves open to the unfamiliar, we can become “connoisseurs of our own emotion and experience” by not regarding these difficulties as problems to be solved, as “an obsession with ends tends to create a projective knowing or longing for outcomes and results” which can negatively impact the creative mindset. In short, we must instead accept that encountering problems and difficulties is part of the reflexive process and must be embraced in order to move forward and expand.

Building on this, I adopt Christopher Frayling’s model of ‘research through design’ (http://folksonomy.co/?permalink=589) to serve as my production ethic – using the production of my game as a vehicle for exposing ideas and possibilities which I might otherwise not have had the ability to engage with, if for example I used a conventional, research-driven production strategy, which would likely constrain the potential of the project. The game therefore provides me with an opportunity to explore contemporary ideas which characterise current games; thus the most logical way of addressing market awareness is to describe how my game would be located in relation to games within the existing market.

As I have chosen the Unity engine to build my game with, the option of online game hosting is available to me (allowing people to play the game inside their browser, rather than as a downloadable standalone) – many unity games are already hosted online, on websites such as Newgrounds or Kongregate, both which have a considerable user base, and enough games that they need to be organised into categories and subcategories. I will likely opt for a standalone download however, for performance reasons. As I am heading towards a game based on overcoming obstacles with the utilisation of specific tools available to the player, my game would likely reside in the ‘puzzle’ category as I would consider it a puzzle platformer.

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Production Analysis: Methodologies

Using the correct methodologies when researching is important during in the production process, helping to orient and guide the project in the early stages as well as midway through the process. I hope to utilise various research techniques in order to inform my project direction.

In the games industry, play testing is a common and simple first hand qualitative research method that functions by putting the game in front of individuals and letting them play it in order to give their feedback. This can be used in a Quality Control fashion with more dedicated play testers with the purpose of identifying game bugs, however more focus group based play testing can also occur in order to gauge and study the public’s reactions in relation to the expectations of the producers, potentially leading to beneficial changes that can occur early in the production process when changing things is easier. This is the primary type of research methodology I will take – focus groups that will inform me of how I should tailor my game to its audience’s expectations at a stage when I can integrate my findings into the process alongside production – if the research takes place too late, I may have to change or even redo things to remain on track, which would be obviously detrimental to progress.

That said, I believe games are a personal creation and in researching how to better appeal to your core audience you must be wary of changing the game’s direction at the cost of the original idea’s sake – that is, if people are unfamiliar with the concepts a game presents, that might just be because these concepts are original and have never been explored before rather than ‘wrong’ in some way, or that they just need to be explained better. In the past, there has been the occasional ruckus regarding how play testing has been approached – one example is when an executive director of Arkane, the developer of Dishonored, revealed in an interview how play testers reacted to one of the in-game characters (in this case, a guard) telling the player that they couldn’t go upstairs – so the playtesters didn’t, thinking that there were no other options, even though they were playing as a master assassin. The top comment on the page from user MasterFnarg reads: “They didn’t go upstairs because someone told them they couldn’t? Have these people ever played a video game?” But what exactly was the perceived problem here – did Arkane choose the wrong testers? Did they not brief the testers correctly before they started playing? Another user TheVGamer comments: “I think Gabe said this but unexperienced playtesters (ie. non-gamers) are the best type of playtesters because they have no previous experience to taint how they view the game they’re testing.” In this case he is referring to Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, and makes an interesting point – the type of tester chosen to test the game likely impacts the research – do you choose testers from your core target audience, or the general public? In the end it probably depends on who you want your game to appeal to – I feel that my testers will be made up from gamers with at least some experience in order to get the most knowledgeable feedback; I’d like the game to appeal to people like me, rather than dilute it so that it appeals to everyone but in a weaker way.

Other research methodologies include questionnaires, a relatively easy way to gain insight into various aspects of planned features and concepts by setting up questions based on them, and then collecting the opinions of many in order to inspect the results and respond accordingly. There can be drawbacks to this – multiple choice questions are hardly personal and don’t allow people to speak their mind (unless optional text boxes are included with questions) but still serve as a solid way to gain a general overview of the opinions of many; as long as the questions are constructed correctly as well as in an unbiased way.

In the end, there are a few research methodologies that can be utilized, each one serves a different purpose and can aid the production process in different ways.

Inspiration

In my previous post, I stated how all ideas are an amalgamation of our own experiences and understanding of the world, or inspiration from having experienced media – my project idea is no different, having been constructed as a new amalgamation of previously explored concepts in an attempt to explore new concepts. Below I list and state my explanation for being inspired by some of the media I have experienced that influenced how I crafted my project idea.

The Matrix (Film and Game Franchise)

The excellent 1999 film ‘The Matrix’ by the Wachowskis and the resulting movie and game franchise that came afterwards explore the concept of a reality in which humans are enslaved and subjected to a  simulated ‘pseudo-reality’ by machines and used as power sources in their comatose state. The key feature of the matrix films which has influenced my idea however is some of the characters ability to increase their perception and movement to a heightened state and observe slowed down time as well as move faster, an effect known as “bullet time,” popularized by the first movie. In the games this technique is known as ‘focus’ and goes beyond mere slowing down time, in that it enables the player to also increase their speed to a degree that allows the dodging of bullets (which can also be perceived as time slowing down while the player retains the ‘same speed’). I like this mechanic since it allows more precise movement and aiming, giving a direct advantage over enemies and allowing the player to avoid damage and escape dangerous situations when they would normally not be able to.

Prince of Persia (Game and Movie Franchise)

Here I am referring to the first reboot of the ‘Prince of Persia’ series, known as the ‘sands of time’ series of games, published by Ubisoft. In the game, players can rewind and slow down as well as speed up time to achieve different effects in order to complete puzzles or gain an advantage in combat; an interesting utilization of the rewind mechanic is that when a makes a mistake, they may rewind time in order to undo whatever may have happened, even if the player had already died for example. I find these kind of time manipulation abilities to be highly interesting and well implemented, particularly their use in solving puzzles, forcing the player to consider the different ways they can manipulate time and what effect doing so has in order to solve tasks. The rewind mechanic is shown below:

Thief of Time (Novel)

Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett, explores the concept of time as a physical quantity, able to be stored and used almost like electricity; in the plot, Auditors (supernatural celestial bureaucrats of reality) decide that mankind is far too unpredictable to document effectively (which is their job) and convince a young clockmaker to build the ‘perfect’ glass clock, which, unknown to all but the Auditors, will imprison the anthropomorphic personification of time and effectively freeze time so that humanity is much easier to manage. A young History Monk called Lobsang Ludd learns of the clock’s construction and attempts to stop it starting. As he is smashing through the window of the room where the clock is, the clock starts; however, he is still able to move thanks to his ‘Time-storer’, a sort of backpack supply of personal time, and in the end is able to save the day.

The History Monks’ task in the Discworld involves ensuring ‘anything happens at all.’ To achieve this, they have methods for moving and storing time by means of spinning cylinders called Procrastinators; it is established in another book that people’s perception of time effects it’s flow on the Discworld, so the monks ensure that this does not become a problem by, for example, taking time from the middle of the ocean (“How much time does a codfish need?”) and transferring it to a busy workshop with a deadline to meet. Overall I feel that Thief of Time is where I will draw the majority of my inspiration from, at least for the lore of the game, since time as a ‘quantity’ able to be stored, a secretive organisation that controls this time, and moving within ‘frozen time’ are all concepts that have been appealing to my imagination since I read the book.

SUPERHOT (Unity Game)

With the central premise of “Time moves when you move,” this FPS game, created in 7 days by Blue Brick studios, would be a pretty standard shooter if not for its innovative time based mechanic – if you stand still, time moves at less than a snail’s pace, and when you move, time returns to it’s normal flow. This allows the player to plan ahead, taking as much time as they want, or to dance in a hail of bullets placing key shots on enemies. Ammunition is limited, adding a strategic dimension to gameplay, forcing the player to deal with threats in an intelligent way to avoid running out of bullets and getting cornered. The aspects of this game that I enjoy include the player’s control over time being the sole deciding element that earns them superiority over their enemies (aside from intelligence) – the player, like the enemies, is just as dangerous yet vulnerable, and will succumb to death in just one shot. I like how adding this one simple mechanic adds a surprising degree of depth to the game – in one level, a player is running down a corridor towards three enemies with handguns – ordinarily, this would be an impossible task, but thanks to the time manipulation it becomes achievable. Additionally, unlike Prince of Persia in which a button is pressed to instigate the time manipulation, movement itself and the translation through space is what causes time to become unstuck, raising some interesting theoretical questions such as how time’s relation to space affects the game world.

Simple gameplay with the addition of a key gameplay element that adds considerable depth will likely be the aim to achieve with my game, and seeing as I am planning to create the game with Unity as well, this game shows that time manipulation within the engine is possible.

You can play SUPERHOT here: http://superhotgame.com/

Quantum Break (Unreleased Game)

Quantum Break is an upcoming third person shooter videogame, being developed by Remedy Entertainment. The game was revealed in a teaser trailer (shown below) during the Xbox One reveal event on 21st May 2013. The game is based on time having been broken, creating time anomaly zones where time freezes or violently skips forward and backward. The main characters are present during the experiment which breaks time, and gain powers to manipulate time – in the trailer, one of the main characters is shown ‘pulling’ another character out of a frozen time anomaly. The game’s director also talks about how great action set-pieces can be created in the game by freezing time in an entire location right the pinnacle of an action filled moment occurs, such as a boat skipping time and hitting a bridge, creating an arena of twisted metal and precarious footing.

I find the way time is conveyed in the game’s media to be engaging, particularly how time is conveyed as violent and barely controllable, straining against the influence of the experiment. Again I find that the key element that makes this game engaging is its use of time to create unique set-pieces, something that I may consider as part of my game.

A Short Cartoon About Time

This flash animation by David Firth explores what would happen if Time was a commodity, bought and sold by a company (time™) just like any other product, and what the repercussions would be when the public acts outside the original intentions of the company due to their own greed. In A Short Cartoon About Time, time is conveyed as carrying the memories of humans – selling time causes one to age and lose memories (though the memory of having those memories is retained), while buying time returns one’s youth. It’s a depressing cartoon but sends a strong message about human’s lack of respect for their own time, auctioning it off for comparatively pitiful sums and then regretting having lost the time afterwards. I especially value the political and ideological angles explored in the cartoon, and hope to perhaps investigate similar views in my own work.

Production Analysis: Idea

Hey there! This first post serves as an introductory piece for what is to come, and an overview of the purpose of this blog. I am currently in my final year of the Interactive Media Production course at Bournemouth University and, for my graduate project, am hoping to create a 3D game based around the theme of Time. This blog serves as a journal to critically reflect on the production process I take while producing the game – you can find out more about the aims and objectives I hope to achieve in the About page.

Early on I was advised to formulate a type of idea known as ‘high concept’ – which can be defined as an ‘artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise’ –  which are typically characterized by an overarching ‘what if’ scenario that acts as a catalyst for the events and details that follow. My interpretation of a high concept-type idea is as though it is the ‘core’ of an entire artistic work, with the fabricated universe and all the subtle details and nuances ‘feeding’ off of it. At the time of writing, my idea has in fact been reworked from its original form, which was similar but ultimately flawed due to it not having a strong idea at its core. When creating and pitching my original idea, I concentrated on how my game would be perceived on the day of the final graduate show, initially only focusing on how I would achieve visual strength in order to be eye catching and attract interest; however after feedback it became apparent that I approached the task from the ‘outside in’ and should have started with a simple but strong central idea, which would have helped create all other aspects of my game as a comprehensive whole. In this respect, I have re-framed my project to have the high concept idea of ‘What if man could control Time?’ at its core.

At first this might seem like a simple, or even cliched idea, and it is in fact intended to be, since the strength of high concept ideas is in their succinctness. The strategy is, as previously explained, to use this notion as a catalyst in order to expand your world in your own personal fashion – in my case, I wish to explore how time is controlled and manipulated by man in the fabricated world – what if something as ephemeral, endless and unmanageable as time became physical, finite and most importantly controllable? Would we squander it or attempt to store it? Would its relation to space allow space to be altered as well, causing alternate or possibly adverse effects? Could we foresee or even control our fate? All of these ‘sub’ ideas simply feed off of the core idea and add a layer of detail to the universe, sparking possibility and imagination. In this context it was key to approach the idea without thinking about technical requirements or limitations until after it has been formulated in order to avoid limiting imagination in any way.

As with the construction of all ideas, inspiration plays an important part as it is what enables us to absorb and re-purpose our understanding of reality in order to assemble our own ideas – I feel that mentioning some of the media that inspired me to come up with my own would be relevant, in a post to follow.