Theory: Make Things Appealing

Take a look at this rest stop along the New York Thruway:

ny-thruway-rest-stop
“Pembroke Travel Plaza,” thruway.ny.gov

Wood framing suggests a natural environment, and perhaps a cozy log cabin. It melds well with the stone for a set of calming earth tones. Grass, flowers, and small trees add to the natural atmosphere. This is a rest stop that looks welcoming during a long drive.

Now consider this one, found on the Pennsylvania Turnpike:

pa-turnpike-rest-stop
“Service Plazas – Lawn,” paturnpike.com

While this also has stone and wood framing, the effect is ruined by prominent siding. The multicolored, industrial, garish roof forms a big part of the rest stop’s visual area. Rather than grass or trees, the parking lot extends all the way to the front walk. Overall, this is a rest stop that looks like it probably has dirty restrooms.

How something looks has a tremendous effect on how welcoming it is. When your design is made of inviting objects, people will want to interact with it. By contrast, you have to convince people to try uninviting things.

Brendan Byrne has pointed out that this applies, not just to service plazas, but to more directly game-related things like buttons. Simon has big, happy-looking buttons that are easy to press; they imply a game that’s easy to learn and play.

simon
“Simon,” boardgamegeek.com

Compare that with your average fighting game layout:

sf-cabinet-layout
Image from forums.arcade-museum.com

I don’t think anyone could look at that without thinking that this game is pretty complicated.

Try to make your game look welcoming. One of the greatest barriers for any designer is simply getting people to try what you’ve built. You’ll find your audience much faster if you don’t have to get them over the hurdle of a system that appears hostile.

Link: Humble GameDev Software Bundle

Humble Bundle is doing another of its game design-relevant software packages. As usual, it’s a great deal. I can’t speak for most of what’s included, but PICO 8 by itself makes the bundle worthwhile.

PICO 8 is a “fantasy console”–a program that enables people to make games, and then runs the games they create. In PICO 8’s case, the goal is to make games that wouldn’t look out-of-place on 8-bit consoles like the original NES. All the necessary tools, from a sprite editor to an audio creator to a programming IDE, are built in; you make games without needing to leave the PICO 8 framework.

One of the joys of game design is exploring the capabilities of new tools, seeing what they offer and feeling out the interesting effects of the constraints they impose. The current Humble Bundle is a wealth of opportunities to do just that; how often do we try to make 8-bit games these days? Give it a look.

. . . and then there Was None

No time to write, that is! I’m afraid I’ve spent the last two days coding, discussing miniatures wargame design, tuning a thesis prototype, measuring control layouts for a refurbished arcade cabinet, and sleeping a little less than is recommended. 😉 Please forgive the non-update; I’ll hope to have something meatier for Friday!

No Quarter

If you’re in New York City, this Friday is No Quarter, an annual event showcasing indie games that play well for large groups. To date I’ve only had the opportunity to play Stephen Lawrence Clark’s work, and it’s amazing; I’ve no doubt that the other three games to be featured will be spectacular as well.

No Quarter starts at 7:00 p.m., and is entirely free. Drop by if you can!

Phalanx: Platform-Driven Performance Issues?

Oddly, the current build of Phalanx works fine on my Mac laptop . . . but stutters on my PC desktop. The stuttering is occurs when the CPU is in heavy use. I’m surprised to see that, since the PC has an i5-4590 processor; it’s pretty beefy CPU-wise. It’s certainly as powerful as the laptop is.

I checked around a bit, and it doesn’t seem like Unity (the engine behind Phalanx’s latest iteration) is known to have performance issues on PC. If anyone has insights, or things I might look into, your thoughts would be gratefully received. I’ll keep up the sleuthing on my end. 🙂

Link: Merchants of Araby

There are a small number of designers and companies whose products I’ll buy sight unseen. Jay Treat is at the top of that list.

Jay’s Merchants of Araby is on Kickstarter now. I’ve never played MoA, in playtest or final form. Nevertheless, this is a snap-back for me. Jay is an amazing designer and a past master of social games; if his name is on a negotiation title, it’s going to be great.

I’m not getting paid anything from Merchants of Araby, and my name isn’t on it anywhere. My only connection to MoA is that Jay’s a good friend of mine–and that’s no surprise, he’s an awesome person. If you knew him, you’d be friends with him too. Take a look at his games, and MoA in particular; they’re worth your time.

All The King’s Theories

One of the great joys of game design is that there’s always something new to learn. There are so many fields involved in creating a game intended for public release that no one person can master them all. It’s always possible to find something new to explore.

Today, for example, I did a lot of audio mixing. Having no particular audio experience, I had to learn the skills involved from scratch. Needless to say, I touched only the surface–but even what I was able to learn in a workday was fascinating. The audio in the new version of Phalanx is better for having learned it, and future projects will no doubt benefit as well.

I don’t have anything especially insightful to say about audio mixing. I’m simply struck by how neat it is that I got to spend some time studying it at all. On the list of things I never thought I’d get to try . . . .