Quote of the Day: Diversity is Important in Game Design

Game design is a tricky thing, and you can ask any developer and I’m sure they will agree. Usually when talk about game design crops up, I find it on other gaming blogs, bigger news outlets or rants on social media. Typically games are dividers, in that when something with more diversity is created, they are fans that rejoice and there is almost always some pushback. Whether it comes up in the form of the age old PVE vs PVP debate in MMOs, or how there are powerful black women taking center stage of the newest FPS, we’re never going to all agree. Finding a balance of “what already works” and what can be done to “increase diversity” can be tricky, but game developers at least, seem to be starting to “get it.” I was perusing the Magic: The Gathering page the other day and came across this article about the importance of diversity in game design, and the writer, Mark Rosewater, touched on some great points. I encourage you to read the whole article, but wanted to highlight a few passages:

The trick to getting everyone to love something is to have some breadth in what you offer. For example, I often talk about how often when designing Magic I’m thinking about all the different kinds of players there are. There are drafters and Standard players and Commander players and Modern players and Vintage players and Pauper players and a whole host of other formats. There are players who focus on two-player play and others who focus on multiplayer play. There are Timmies and Tammies, Johnnies and Jennies, and Spikes. There are the Vorthoses who live for the flavor of the game and the Mels who thrive on the mechanical artistry. There are collectors and traders. There are cosplayers. There are people who experience the game and/or express their feelings for the game through podcasts and videos and blogs and articles. And every time we make a set, we must be aware that all of those different kinds of players exist. We help each of those different types of players fall in love with something by making sure we provide things catered to them

Sounds like the exact way MMO design has turned out. I guess you could say that MTG is sort of an MMO as well, with millions of players across paper and digital platforms, but clearly this is an apples to oranges argument. Next, from the “DESIGN THE COMPONENT FOR THE AUDIENCE IT’S INTENDED FOR” segment:

This lesson talks about the dangers of designing to please too many audiences. To do your best game design, you have to understand what audience each component is aimed for and then maximize that component for that audience. Also, included in this idea is that it’s okay if a different audience doesn’t like that component. It’s not being made for them. (A quick aside that if that component is actively insulting to another group, for example, showing them in a bad light, that is a problem. You shouldn’t make one group happy by actively denigrating another group.)

The reason this lesson is key for understanding the importance of diversity is that the people who belong to the group in power probably are used to having a high percentage of representation. Lowering their representation to allow you to have an opportunity to showcase others is sometimes met with criticism because you’re lessening their representation. They’re taking the status quo as a baseline. Lowering that baseline can sometimes be seen as an attack because you’re taking something away from them.

My counter to that is that your game needs to be reflexive to the needs of everyone playing and not just the most dominant group. For example, Commander as a format didn’t exist for many years. As such, we didn’t design with it in mind, but as we started to see interest in the format, we began incorporating it into our designs (even making a product specifically for the format). By doing so, we increased awareness of Commander which, in turn, led to more people playing the format.

I’m a fan of this sentiment. Think about when the devs of Wildstar catered to that core vocal group and didn’t care about anyone else playing the game? Remind me where they are now? It goes to show that by being more diverse, you can create better worlds, better stories and overall better games. I hope this is the sort of philosophy developers adopt in the future, and we’ll see some awesome stuff as a result.

Mobile Games Update

It’s funny to me that despite my protests about mobile games in years past — things like they aren’t real games and none of them are worth the time investment — I play them more than console or PC games these days. It’s true, there was a time when the majority of mobile games were time wasters in a bad way, either due to huge time gating mechanics or pay walls and I guess the same can be said about the entire free to play industry so there’s that. You’ll know that my mind has been changed more recently though, as I have been blogging about one title in particular for a couple of years now. Others have come and gone, but I usually at least share my thoughts about said titles each time I play a new one, or give updates on the long running staples. The last time I did an update like this was about six months ago, so I thought it would be interesting to see what’s changed on my phone, and what’s happened with the games I’m still playing.

Currently Installed:

Clash Royale
SEGA Heroes
Pokemon Go

So we have the usual suspects here, but also a game I didn’t think I’d ever write about outside of the “it’s a passing fad” commentary I’ve made in the past.

Clash Royale has seen a few big updates since the last time I went over what was on my phone. Shortly after that time the new trophy road system was implemented. Just a little over a month ago we also saw pass royale become a thing. I have to say I think the new trophy road system is better than the old ladder, as I do enjoy getting a slew of unlocked prizes each time the season resets, rather than just dropping a bunch of trophies for nothing. They did reward a chest but it was never as good as all of these rewards have been. Then as we take the trek back up we get more unlocks as well. It has felt good during the few months we have had it. Ditto pass royale. For $5 you get some creature comforts, but as you progress you get more unlocks than you used to at the end of any season. I do feel like I always fall behind with unlocking the tiers and have to do some grinding from time to time to earn crowns, but hell that used to be all we did during clan wars, just grind out as many trophies as you could — that got old fast. They are gamifying what used to bother us, to a point where it no longer bothers us. I think Supercell has done a great job with the game and I hope it continues to be awesome.

SEGA Heroes has also seen some updates that added in some cool features. One thing that was always really annoying was when doing your challenges (these reset daily for the most part) for any of the levels in which you earned a 3-star rating you could later “loot” without having to actually do the fight over again. You can do the same on campaign levels, by the way. Anyhow, you can now “quick loot” the whole set of levels on each challenge if you’ve already completed them all. It’s very nice for convenience sake. Boss battles were introduced recently as well, and some new currencies introduced. You can spend one type to summon a boss and the other type to fight against it. Bosses have a ton of health bars, so if the whole guild attacks repeatedly, you should be able to take it down. If not, they disappear after a set time and you’ll be rewarded for what hurt you did put on it. It’s an okay system but due to the fights being timed, they also opted to limit the speed at which you play. See there are game speed settings, and most people play on the faster speed so they don’t have to sit through the drawn out animations. In the boss fights you can’t adjust the speed so it’s painfully slow. Otherwise a fine idea. New characters are being added all the time, recently from the games Shenmue, Altered Beast and even Valkyria Chronicles. I’m still enjoying it, but at account level 65 and working on the blue stars on my main team, progress has slowed to a crawl.

As I said above, I’m surprised to be writing about this at all, but yes I have Pokemon Go installed on my phone right now. I can pretty much guarantee this would have never happened were it not for my woman, but it has happened nonetheless. Apparently she had it installed since back in ’16 when it released, most likely due to prodding from the boy. Whatever the case, she started playing it again a couple of months ago, and prodded me to install so that she could send me gifts. I agreed and pretty much only logged on when she would bug me to accept my gifts so that I could be sent more. The bug may have caught me a bit more at this point though, as I have been catching Pokemon more often (mostly while sitting at home, or when we are out doing errands) and now find myself with the app open while we are driving around trying to get pokestops and catch more critters. It’s still a game that frustrates me due to being janky sometimes, and I don’t like the fact that they essentially force you to pay for storage space but maybe I should be using my items faster? I don’t know exactly, and I don’t know shit about Pokemon except for the more popular characters. So yeah, I’m not truly invested but I have participated more actively as of late.

Previously Installed:

Langrisser
Warriors of Waterdeep
AFK Arena
Dr. Mario World

So in that last Mobile check in post, I had spoken of Langrisser still being installed on my phone. It lasted for a while longer but I just never came back around to it so it was thrown on the burn pile. It seemed fine as I expressed in the linked post, but I just don’t play games that are too involved on my phone — I’d rather be able to play for five to ten minutes and feel like I did all I needed to do for that day.

I also rather enjoyed Warriors of Waterdeep but I just couldn’t keep up with the requirements to stay relevant. I eventually started to see that the play pattern wouldn’t change any more and lost interest. It was fun while it lasted though.

Ditto AFK Arena. It was fun to play for a few weeks but it was clear that it would be a play pattern that I wasn’t going to enjoy indefinitely. I’ve already essentially got a couple games that do this thing for me really well already, and despite thinking I’ll find another to add to the list I haven’t found a solid third game just yet.

Lastly, Dr. Mario World which is still a fairly new release and could possibly change into something I’d enjoy more, just didn’t do it for me as much as I wanted it to. I’d still take a bare bones Tetris game over this though, so that hurts its prospects. I don’t know why Nintendo have such great success with their first party IPs on their own systems but can’t seem to get this mobile thing going. Whatever the case, I have my doubts about any of their games being addictive to me personally.

And that’s all there is to touch on. Any good mobile game recommendations, given what I’ve written above? I’m always open to trying something new, but there’s no guarantee it will stick!

Let Vacation Begin

It’s been a while since I’ve done an IRL check-in, and well, things have progressed.

I’m still satisfied with my job. It’s a breeze, but it’s busy work to the point where you don’t realize the time has gone by. As much as I wake up at 2:30 am and hate my life decisions, I blink a couple of times and I’m coming home. I feel like the routine has set in to the point where I can have a semblance of a normal life despite having to do much of my sleeping during the day. However, as most good jobs go, there are benefits that make up for these hours. One of those benefits is PTO time that racks up rather quickly. I have nearly 100 hours banked already after just six months, and I’m just about to use 40 of those. The Magic Fest convention is next week, so I’ll be there from the 22nd to the 25th, but my normal days off are Monday and Tuesday. I didn’t see the point in two days off, working a day and then having six more days off, so I opted to take the additional day for a total of nine days off. Vacation started today, and though it’s plenty of time I already know it will fly by. I just hope to get as much fun and relaxation in as possible.

For the next couple of days I have to be productive in that there are last minute things to take care of, some chores to do before I go, along with at least four days worth of blog posts I’ll have to get scheduled (on top of writing the three prior to leaving). Then I’ll be back to normal come Monday, where I’ll do my normal things and hopefully feel like I had a great time before heading back to work on Wednesday. Excitement for the convention is setting in. I have other plans for Vegas as well, so I’m looking forward to a multitude of things and I haven’t even left yet.

Once this vacation is over though, it’s time for hard core savings mode. We have to move by the end of the year or attempt to buy the house we’re living in, so I have a lot of pressure coming up. I’m not going to go into more detail as I’m trying to escape responsibility/reality for the next few days. But I know that life is coming, and it’s coming hard for me. I intend on spending my free time while not in Vegas playing more video games. There are several that I started within the last couple of months that I have not completed, so I’m going to try and strike some off of the list. Should hopefully provide some more blog fodder.

I have some drafts lined up, so there should be a good variety coming soon. Looking at a post about rewatching older TV shows, some MTG brews, the coming football season and of course more gaming stuff. Blaugust is past the 50% mark and I’ve successfully kept up, so I’m not going to give up now, but honestly today I looked at my drafts and just didn’t want to write about any of it. I’m sure I will be recharged after a good night’s rest though, so I’ll get some more stuff out there for your eyeballs to read in the coming days. Thanks for stopping by.

The Steam Calculator: 2019 Edition

The first time The Steam Calculator was brought to my attention was back in 2014. At the time, I had only been purchasing games via the platform for a little while but it was still and interesting way to look at your Steam library. I’m a fan of stats and figures, so I guess this was a given. It just so happens that when I wrote that first post about my observations about said stats took place shortly after the first Newbie Blogger Initiative that I participated in. I also ended up writing a follow up post one year later and made some comparisons between the years. Seeing as how it is Blaugust and this topic popped up via other bloggers, I thought it was fitting to take a look at my account once again. It’s been just over five years since the original post, and four since the second so I’m sure my stats will have inflated quite a bit by now. I linked to both of those posts above but I will copy over some stats here for easy comparison. Let’s look at the numbers from the first post:

This account is worth $607.64. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $276.54.

* *Games owned:* 55

* *Games not played:* 5 **(9%)**

* *Hours spent:* 304.5h

I was surprised to find out how much time I had spent playing games on my Steam account at that time, given that I had mostly played MMOs and MOBAs via their own launchers up to that point, but I was heading towards critical backlog mass very shortly. Contrast with a year later:

This account is worth $2054. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $562.

* **Games owned:** 168
* **Games not played:** 34 *(20%)*
* **Hours on record:** 660.0h*
* **Average price of games owned:** $12.22
* **Average price per hour:** $9.86
* **Average playtime:** 4.9h

I went more in depth in my stats analysis in the prior post, but we can see an almost $1500 spike in account value, over 100 new games added and more than double the amount of hours spent on the platform. Let’s fast forward and see what’s going on, current day:

This account is worth $5195. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $1410.

* **Games owned:** 416
* **Games not played:** 90 *(22%)*
* **Hours on record:** 1569h*
* **Average price of games owned:** $15.93
* **Average price per hour:** $8.19
* **Average playtime:** 4.8h

So first of all, wow that’s a lot of money for only three years. $3.1k is no small figure, but I guarantee you that very little of my library was purchased for full price. I rarely buy games that aren’t on sale, and have trained myself to wait for the semi-annual sales that occur. I’ve also tried to cull my backlog by playing games until I beat them or decide that I never will, and then they get uninstalled. This has been an ongoing project of mine, but it is difficult to keep up with as new games are releasing all of the time and I end up getting new ones still, but it’s been much less often in the last couple of years. This is most likely due to splitting my free cash between gaming and MTG, but also due to expenses varying over the years. Looks like I have a ton of games that aren’t played but I know that I’ve played most. I think it’s still counting DLC and/or Free to Play games that I don’t really own. It has been noted that this database isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s still fun to look at. It appears that my average price of games, price per hour and average playtime haven’t changed much in four years. I’d attribute this to my schedule, having a family, work, and all of that good stuff. I’m in a good place with it, so that’s what matters.

If you’re curious about your own Steam accounts, you can find that app over here.

Thoughts on Steambirds Alliance

When Steambirds Alliance showed up in my Steam discovery queue, I was surprised by its description. It was tagged as an MMO, but also as a shoot em up (schmup). I happen to enjoy bullet-hell style games, and have played them since childhood, but I didn’t see how you could turn this sort of concept into an RPG, let alone an MMO. Color me interested, particularly when I found out that it was in Open Beta and free to download to try out. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but after a session with the game I found it to be intriguing. Many of the concepts that you’d expect from an MMO are present. There is crafting. There are different ships that could correlate to classes. There are quests. You level up. You get gear. There are open world parts, and dungeons complete with bosses. There is a central hub city where you can group up with other players and it works sort of like Marvel Heroes, where the open world is wandered by all, and if you participate in battle you get your own share of the XP. It does actually become a bullet hell at times too, so the schmup portion of the game’s design is true to its roots.

Being in beta, I’m sure there are still kinks to work out. The tutorial was good enough, but didn’t really describe the fact that you don’t really sell your loot, you just drop “trash.” There are features that don’t open up until you’re level 5 or level 20. I have no idea what crafting is like due to this level restriction, though I will admit the levels come at a rapid clip. There is a story that loosely translates to birds hating cats and cats ruling the world currently, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Then again, when is the last time you cared about the story/quest text in an MMO? It doesn’t look bad but it definitely doesn’t feel AAA. Not that being indie is a bad thing, but it doesn’t really feel like a top notch game, but that could also be due to the fact that it’s a schmup MMO mashup and that’s just weird to begin with.

Honestly I don’t think it’s a bad game, but I have only scratched the surface so far. I had to play it to sate my curiosity, but I’m not sure it’s something I’ll play more of. One thing that makes the schmup genre fun is the fact that yes it is challenging, but there is an end to the game and you can say you beat it. Turning that concept into an MMO either means eventually things become trival or you get bored because by now you normally would have beaten several games in the genre. I’m not sure what to think about this one, but I wish them luck in their coming launch. Seems to have some sort of population, I saw dozens of people playing during my session. I’d recommend checking it out if you’re bored and want something new, or if you’re as curious as I was about this bastard of a game concept. If you’re already playing a more traditional MMO I don’t think you’d be into this one.