Category Archives: General


Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it unenjoyable. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Test Cases

I have been pondering our QA at work and how that must work out for game development. There is never enough time to do as much as we would like, and there are always more ways things could potentially go wrong. Let’s narrow that discussion to the multiplicity of test environments and the length of regression testing.
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Enforced Casualness

go farm a spell I have been playing through Reignmaker, which is Tower of Elements with city-building. Because your abilities are gated by the city-building aspects, and the resource-gathering for city-building is a time-based mechanic, casual play is enforced.

Take, for example, the pictured level. Several levels recommend the sorts of spells or items you would want for them. Researching a spell takes time. Upgrading a building does not, but gathering resources for it does. If you need 1000 wood to upgrade to level 4 (plus 500 for level 3, plus…), and your (upgraded at the cost of more wood) lumber mill fills up at 90, you need to check the game 11 times to get the one upgrade. So play occasionally and check in frequently.

Being resource-starved has apparently been an issue from the beginning. Reading that thread, it has been declared a feature rather than a bug: it is now a time-management game in addition to a match-3 game. Which would be appropriate if the game were on Facebook and I needed to ask friends to come fertilize my farm.

: Zubon


Can any artists (or art managers) in the audience talk about your process for graphic fixes? Comments and links appreciated.

For example, clipping is a frequent issue in games. I think of City of Heroes/Villains, which had a variety of capes, robes, and flowing garments; a variety of spikes and big shoulderpads; several weapons, which might be held or sheathed; and of course a wide variety of animations that combined them all. A martial artist in spandex had few problems, but a swordswoman sliced through her cape every few seconds, and often just with the running animation.

Players would sometimes find that annoying or amusing. As an artist on the team, you probably would have found it infuriating and spent days fantasizing about fixing it. But maybe it was a limitation of the engine, and definitely there were bigger priorities, and always your manager has something else you need to work on because his manager says the new content must ship on Tuesday.

We spend a lot of time on mechanics here because that is how I think. I would like to hear about how these things happen on the art side, if anyone would like to take the microphone.

: Zubon

Browser Versions

At IMGDC 2.0, Gordon Walton said (paraphrase) that Star Wars: The Old Republic should be the last MMO (or perhaps online game) made with a standalone client. His logic was that everyone has a web browser, and the web browser does not require a multi-GB download. As a developer, every barrier between your customer and the game costs you customers. (Back to that post from Gordon Walton: you, the self-identified “gamer,” will work hard for a bit of fun, but most paying customers will not.) As a player, I have lost interest in the time it takes to download, install, and learn how to play. As an observer, I would attribute some of the rise of flash and mobile games to the convenience of automated downloads, streamlined installation, and the business brilliance that is the modern app store.

Maybe it takes more than six years for that idea to spread, but there are definitely reasons why you might want a standalone client: the need for gigabytes of content, security controls, and (most importantly to me today) a uniform development platform. “Web browser” is not one thing. One of the drawbacks of developing for the PC (not consoles) is that PCs differ widely in terms of hardware and software, and web browsers create more levels of differences. Are you using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or something else? Maybe still using Netscape Navigator? Which version are you using, both major and minor? There are dozens of different ways users could have that one thing configured, and your game needs to work in all of them, with every other hardware and software configuration that goes along with the browser. I can see why you might want to say, “Our client, our world, under our control.”

I spend some days playing tech support for an online system. Some users genuinely have a problem with our system. Others could not remember which password was for our system, remembered the password but had typos, forgot the password for their Windows logon, had trouble with an internet connection, had trouble with Internet Explorer, had trouble using a function that worked slightly differently in Internet Explorer and Chrome, or needed the finer points of using a mouse explained. And those are the questions I remember off-hand from one day. When you are supporting a product on the PC, you are supporting the entire PC. At a previous job, our FAQs included how to update browser settings and how to troubleshoot problems with printer settings. Their printer problems were not our fault, but they were our problem if we wanted customers to make full use of our site.

When you run a hotel, you also get to explain to people how to find your hotel. If they cannot get to your service, they cannot use your service. The construction down the road may not be your fault, but it is still a barrier between you and your customers.

: Zubon

Loss Versus Failure to Gain

Game developers manipulate player desires by presenting the same options differently. Player reactions are empiricably testable with cash shop setups.

I frequently cite the example of having a “hunger” debuff versus a “well-fed” buff. These can be designed to be numerically identical, where the character has higher base stats that are debuffed by hunger or lower base stats that are buffed by food. You balance content around the higher number in either case. Players will complain about a hunger debuff but feel like they have been given something extra with a food buff. Even if the numbers are identical, humans are unhappy if you tell them you are taking something away from them, whereas they barely notice if they fail to gain something.

Many cash shops have some sort of lottery option. You can give the developers $X for a chance at items or whatever. What you see at least as often these days, because we would predict that it works better, is giving you a lottery ticket or prize you can pay $X to unlock. In the former case, you can play the lottery by giving me $X; in the latter, this lottery ticket is now yours, but you cannot redeem it unless you give me $X. Same lottery, same prize, same $X. If you doubt which implementation yields more sales, look at where the developers are betting. Team Fortress 2? Locked crates with keys in the cash shop. Guild Wars 2? Black Lion chests with keys in the cash shop.

Developers can make this more concrete by adding time pressure: the box/ticket expires in a week or after the event. Some players might still see a locked chest or lottery ticket as a failure to gain, but if it is going to disappear in a few days, they have definitely lost something, even if only an opportunity. The perception of scarcity also plays in here; you always have access to thousands of TF2 crates and GW2 chests for a few cents, so it is harder to instill the idea that you are losing any opportunities, while other games might make those drops less common (but still give the player frequent opportunities to buy things). Hence TF2’s time-limited crates, and doesn’t GW2 have occasional seasonal Black Lion chest items?

: Zubon

Out of the Rabbit Hole and into Summer

Mrs. Ravious and I just go back from our 10th Anniversary trip, which was basically our first childless trip since our honeymoon. It was long overdue, and we drank much fortified grape juice in southern France. I am back now for the remainder of the summer.


Windborne is currently the game of the house. The kids play on it almost every single day. I hop on every once in awhile too. I’ve needed lighter faire, but I still muddle around on my Desert island once in awhile. An update is slated to come in the next few weeks, I hope, and I’m sure the game will rise back to the top for me too.

Guild Wars 2

Speaking of updates soon to come, Guild Wars 2! July 1st is going to be the next update, which starts off Season 2 of the Living World. The big change to come is the Story Journal, where players are able to return to story content to their hearts’ delight. To unlock it, players just have to sign on during the episode’s period. Otherwise a small gem fee is paid to unlock it. Seems pretty good to me.

I am really interested to see how ArenaNet balances the now more persistent, repeatable content with the open world content that will still change.

One Finger Death Punch

This game was the only one I’ve picked up on the Steam Summer sale so far. I’ve just been content inundated otherwise despite having a decent Wishlist. I love this game. It’s basically a rhythm game with some serious twists. It’s so frenetic and exacting. I just feel this is a fantastic intense coffee-break style game.

War of Omens

I’ve also fallen for this online CCG. It’s like a cross between Dominion and Blizzard’s Hearthstone game. In the beginning it’s very PvE-friendly, and unlike Hearthstone, War of Omens pretty much lets you just play against the computer if that’s all you want to do. It is a bit grindy at later stages, but the game itself is quite fun, and the developer updates it every other week or so.

Anyway, just wanted to give a quick update. Zubon’s been doing a fine job as usual, and I figured I’d just put up a small flag waving “I’m Not Dead Yet!”  Cheers.


Persistence and Mutability

We want our games to present both persistence and mutability in certain degrees and certain forms, but that varies from person to person and time to time. When those factors are not in balance, we can be left thinking, “What’s the point?”

We want the effects of actions to stick around, but not for too long. You want the game to keep track of your score, but it should reset between games. You could completely empty a world where enemies never respawned; you could scarcely progress through one where they all respawned instantly; you could certainly find yourself “done” with either in short order.

In an MMO, character advancement is more persistent, while your effects upon the world are very mutable. Monsters respawn within the minute. The dungeon resets as soon as your group leaves. Your levels and equipment stay with you, and you tend to exploit mutability to farm monsters and dungeons and thereby increase your levels and equipment.

Outside our MMO world, game persistence is largely bound by the unit of a “game.” Little carries over between games beyond a win/loss record. You would not play a “new” game of Monopoly if the previous winner still had all the money and properties s/he ended with. Sports would be very different if winners were determined by cumulative score over an entire season. You reset the world for every game of Civilization, and you reset the story to start over a single-player game. “New game plus” adds more of that between-game character advancement.

Finding the right balance can be hard outside of established norms. Adding a bit of the right kind of persistence is hard, as is mitigating it with mutability. You want your actions to have an impact on the world, but you do not want to be forever bound by others’ actions. You want to be able to reasonably counter other players’ actions, but you do not want them to trivially counter yours, and I think you’ll find that your perceptions of “reasonable” and “trivial” can depend on whether they are your actions.

Sometimes, I feel like fighting that boss again or running that dungeon again. Other times, I really want save the kingdom and have it stay saved after I log off. Luckily, we are not bound to play the same game all the time forever, so we can seek the mix that suits us each best at the moment, but the movement between games is itself a form of mutability.

: Zubon

Windborne Interview with Michael Austin

I snagged some of Michael Austin’s time in the middle of a crazy, crazy week to discuss Windborne. He is the Chief Technology Officer of Hidden Path Entertainment as well as the lead designer / project owner for Windborne. On the Hidden Path forums he is known as Echo. Hidden Path’s site heralds Austin as one of the few experts in the world on Xbox 360 CPU architecture, and his resume includes Call of Duty 2, CS:GO, racing games, and many others. Hidden Path is pretty well known in the PC indie gaming world for their amazing tower defense game Defense Grid, which Austin also lead in design. None of these are social sandbox games.


Origin of Windborne

Austin said that originally he was messing around with voxel engines, and he found a cool way to do smooth voxels with hard edges. Hidden Path was already looking for another game they could self-finance instead of more work-for-hire jobs. Everybody became really excited about the potential of this simple idea of moving around the voxels in Austin’s prototype engine. That is how Windborne began.

I pushed Austin on Windborne being a completely new genre for Hidden Path. He said with Hidden Path’s history they are more interested in creating “fun, compelling experiences” than sticking to any one or two defined genres. The creative genre has been in Hidden Path’s dream pile for some time, and Minecraft proved that there was an incredible market for the genre. The path they wanted to take in their creative game was to have a very immersive world on top of the creative elements.

They wanted the creations and mechanics of Windborne to provide meaning. There should be a sense of wonder. That was Windborne’s elevator pitch. Continue reading