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Sexta-feira, 19 de Novembro de 2010
SBGames 2010 [Day 3]

Jonathan Blow, keynote speaker of Day 3 of SBGames2010, presented the talk ‘The Perils of Game Design’. Jonathan Blow, former writer for 'Game Developer Magazine' is the man behind the game 'Braid'.

Naturally, he focused on Game Design and offered his input on the area. He referred early on that games are so much more than they were 30 years ago. Take ‘Pac-Man’ for example. What were the chances of finding someone playing ‘Pac-Man’ for more than 30 minutes? Today, we have people playing games during hours, 5 or 6 at a time.

Games have naturally evolved over time, thanks to better game design. Better game design was possible because of trial and error processes, resulting in a set of best game design practices that make games more engaging.



So what are some of these best game design practices? ‘Story’, ‘Eye & Ear Candy’, ‘Next Goal’ and ‘Feeling of Constant Improvement’. Why the latter of the list? Because the ‘human mind wants and needs to feel its improving. How is this possible in a game? Through ‘high-scores’ or ‘special abilities’, for example.

So, as Jonathan Blow exemplified, if we take the example of slot machines, they are in fact an addictive game play experience because they’re flashy (eye candy) and have a reward system. However, if you take away the ‘flashiness’ and the rewards, all you get is a win/lose game… which is boring.

The conversation then moved towards the idea of ‘boredom’. What is ‘boredom’? It’s a ‘healthy response to unproductive situations’… and continued in the direction of reward systems, once again.

Exemplifying with the work of BF Skinner, “reward systems are methods of positive control’ and ‘it is better to be a conscious slave than to be a happy one’. Strong words, huh?!

So what’s this all about? It’s about the fact that many games or systems control people by making them happy. This is a dangerous thing. Why? Because in this state of happiness, a person isn’t aware they’re being ‘controlled’.

Take ‘FarmVille’ or ‘FrontierVille’ for example (yes, these games again). They are, in a sense, systems of slavery. Why? Because they’re a system of planting crops, but they’ll die if you don’t take care of them. So the game/system ‘forces’ you to come back and take care of your farm/land…whatever it is. In a nutshell, ‘FarmVille’s’ game designers simply try to maximize the amount of time this game takes up, whether you’re in front of the monitor playing or not. In theory, this makes your life worse because you’re constantly worried that your crops will die or that you’re not making use of the free land you have to plant other things. The player is, therefore, controlled by the game. Nevertheless, the player will continually feel happy playing the game.


Naturally, these ideas caused a lot of ‘murmurs’ in the crowd… at the moment, and during the rest of the day. It was one of those ideas that really made a person reflect.

Jonathan Blow stated that ‘FarmVille’, or any social game for that matter, destroys our time while we’re away from them. He referred to, as I did in yesterday’s post, the parody game ‘Cow Clicker’ as being a simplified version of ‘FarmVille’. How can a simple click game be so persuasive? And worse yet, the fact that people are constantly publishing things on their walls, things like ‘I just harvested some corn’, ‘I just milked a cow’, and then having someone else click on these posts makes the game go viral.

While, as we’ve seen, reward systems are part of good game design, in ‘FarmVille’, the multiple reward systems are a great way to hide the pointlessness of the game. In the end, the companies that make these games don’t even like the games they make; they won’t even play them. They don’t care if they’re fun or not… they just want your money.

And believe it or not, there is some science to all of this. Tests are done to understand exactly how much rewards should be given to a player for completing a certain task. There are tests that observe player behavior and then optimize the game to make it more ‘appealing’.


To conclude his talk, he focused on some of his personal approaches in game design. He showed concern in the fact that game designers, when developing these games, are making people ‘dumber’. He stated that a game designer has a responsibility to develop good games and to respect the player.


By being aware of manipulative tactics and avoiding them; by optimizing the gameplay and avoiding control techniques.

By developing a game regarding an issue that interests the designer; a game that can impact players’ lives.

And by doing such things, you can still make a reasonable amount of money.


As I mentioned, this was probably the most discussed talk. His ideas on control and slavery generated a lot of talk after the keynote. While in a way I do feel that certain games of the genre are manipulative and do control the player – I do know people that play the game and are returning to it multiple times a day to complete multiple objectives – being controlled is all about how easily you can be controlled and how much you give in to these games. If you’re desperate to be the best, you’ll probably give in a lot easier. If you play, but really don’t care… I don’t think you’ll be easily controlled by the game. This talk and the ideas that were generated can boil up a big conversation… no doubt about it.


And to finish off this post and series of posts related to SBGames, a word for my presentation that occurred on the morning of Day 3. I presented early, 9am, and there was a significant crowd. I think the presentation went well although it didn’t generate many questions.

That’s about it. 2011’s edition will be in Bahia. Only time will tell if I’ll be there!



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published by sja às 15:55

Quinta-feira, 18 de Novembro de 2010
SBGames 2010 [Day 2]

Scot Osterweil presented the main keynote of day 2. Osterweil – creative director of MIT’s Education Arcade – talked of ‘Meaningful Games’.

He began his talk by asking the audience to turn to the person next to them and play the famous ‘tic-tac-toe’. After a couple of minutes of play, everyone stopped and he asked: ‘who actually wanted to win?’ everyone raised their hand. By the audiences’ attitude and behavior – there was lots of smiling and excitement – he concluded that ‘games do matter’… and ‘they have for a very long time’.

He continued his talk by asking a couple of questions for the audience to reflect upon: ‘why are games important?’ & ‘what does play mean?’. He stated, with reason, ‘all vertebrates play’. Exemplifying: even mountain goats, hundreds of meters up in the mountains play too. Some of them will die… but ‘playing is worth the risk

Scot Osterweil continued indicating that ‘playing teaches interaction and is all about creativity’. He referred to ‘4 freedoms of play’: freedom of experiment, freedom to fail, freedom to try on identities and freedom of effort.



Continuing with games, he asked ‘why do people play challenging games’? In a sentence: ‘people like to be challenged’. I think this idea ties in closely with the work of known psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the concept of ‘flow’. Flow is all about balance; it’s about being in a state of total immersion. It’s about doing an activity and finding the right balance between being challenged and having fun.

Osterweil then asked the key question: ‘are all games meaningful?’ He spoke of the very popular ‘FarmVille’, a game many of you know or even play; an online game that a couple of months ago was played by an excess 70 million users.  So is ‘FarmVille’ a meaningful game? His thoughts: ‘while it’s easy and keeps you in touch and interacting with friends, it doesn’t really challenge us’. ‘FarmVille’ at its core is basically a clicking game. Click here, click there, click everywhere. In fact, another known game on Facebook that ‘mocks’ the concept of ‘FarmVille’ is ‘Cow Clicker’; a game where you simply click on cows. It’s as simple as that. It’s not very challenging either.

‘Tetris’, on the other hand, IS a meaningful game. It’s not only about blocks and rotating them. It’s about spatial relations and to an extent, deals with math.


Osterweil then went on to talk about a couple of games he thought were meaningful before he exemplified with a game that had been developed at MIT; a game where the rules weren’t present and where kids had to explore, experiment and fail to understand and win the game. The game was unique because it was never the same. That is, when one player finishes the game, the variables of the game will change and whatever strategy the player might have thought of to resolve the game won’t be applicable a second time.

He finished stating that games that challenge are good and therefore so is failure. With failure comes learning… and learning is all about getting better! Or something like that :)


During day 2 of SBGames 2010 I also had the chance to play Taikodom, a Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) developed by Brazilian game company Hoplon Infotainment. During the event, Hoplon set up a Taikodom tournament and prizes were distributed. Taikodom is currently Brazil's biggest video game project with a cost of around 15 million USD.

I enjoyed playing the game... although I kind of sucked at it :(

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published by sja às 16:48

Quarta-feira, 17 de Novembro de 2010
SBGames 2010 [Day 1]

It's been about 10 days since I arrived in Brazil. The SBGames 2010 conference wrapped up exactly a week ago, on the 10th. Overall, I think it was a very good conference!

Around 800 participants, mainly (naturally) from Brazil showed up to discuss video games and all its questions. Organizing an event for 800 people isn't easy and naturally minor glitches occurred here and there... but I think the organization did a good job!


Many, many papers were presented. Many, many topics were discussed. However, because multiple sessions occurred during the day, I wasn't able to view them all.

Nonetheless, I did assist all the main keynotes, all of them very, very interesting.

And the next three blog posts will focus mainly on the content of these keynotes, spread throughout Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of the conference.


Day 1


The main keynote speaker of Day 1 was Don Marinelli. Don Marinelli, a drama professor from Carneggie Mellon University (CMU), is co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a department of the CMU. The other co-founder was the late Randy Pausch. You might remember Randy Pausch for having delivered 'The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams' before passing away a couple of years ago. Together they founded the ETC, and from what Don explained, it sounds like a wonderful place to study at.



Don Marinelli presented the talk 'Triumph of the Gamer'. It was a wonderful talk, filled with moments of reflection and of laughter. Don, being a drama professor, is also a wonderful entertainer and certainly knows how to capture the crowd (not that it's a bad thing). But all ears were on him during an hour.

Many things were said. He told of his adventure of getting mixed into computer science. Something most people would find very odd considering his background in drama and theatre. But his passion for entertainment and games led him down that road and towards meeting Randy Paush.

While it is hard to summarize all that he referred to in his talk, I did jot down a couple of notes; a couple of ideas that caught my attention.



'Students are smarter than teachers'. Why? Because they know more about technology. Is it true? To some extent, I'd say yes. Of course the term 'technology' has to be refined to more precise examples. Naturally some students are pros in web2.0 services that some teachers don't know exist or have only had minimal contact with. But of course teachers are smarter than their students in so many other things. And we can't forget that today, the internet is jam-packed full of information on almost any area of knowledge. It isn't hard for a student to sit down and read up on information he'll learn the next day in a classroom.

'We don't need books to be smart. Are video games/technology the books of the future?' It's quite possible. More than one 'opinion maker', some highly recognized, have referred that books in their traditional format will disappear in the following years. Learning by then will no longer be 'by the book', but rather... through technology and other instruments. While I find the idea interesting... it is kind of hard to believe that areas such as medicine or law can 'generate' med students or future lawyers all they need to know without 1000 page books. But I'm sure in a good couple of years there will be more than one good solution to teach. ...maybe games?

Don continued his talk and spoke of how his area of expertise ties in closely with that of computer science... and naturally, games. 'Storytelling is a craft' he stated; and the use of 'improvisational acting' in the course is not only good for creativity, but helps with non-linear narratives as well as team-building.

Don's talk was full of interesting ideas and reflections. His final thoughts were education based as he stated that education is definitely the next 'game-frontier'


While this summary is far from sufficient to explain all the things that were discussed, it's a starter. All that's left to say is 'thank you Don, for a wonderful talk!'.


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published by sja às 17:07

Quinta-feira, 4 de Novembro de 2010
SBGames 2010

SB Games is, as the organization describes, the most important event in research and development of video games and digital entertainment.

This year's edition - edition no. 9 - will take place in Florianópolis, Brazil; starting Monday (Nov. 8) until Wednesday (Nov. 10).

This year, I'm there!


SBGames2010, which will take place next week, will address the topic 'Games on the Network'. As they describe, the objective of this year's event is to  - in simple terms - "reflect on the relations between games and social networks, as well as the different tribes that appear on the networks as a result of games; as well as how these occurences are shapping the market and the industry."


While this year's edition will be the 9th event, the SBGame Conferences began in 2002 with the name Wjogos. While the conference focussed initially on computation, over the past few editions it has begun to embrace other areas such as art, design and the industry.


While the main theme of this year is 'Games on the Network', I'll be presenting a slightly different paper.

The work I'll be presenting is related to a comparative study that I elaborated, and  that took into consideration how hardcore and inexperienced players visually, and physically interact - through their avatar - in a video game. Specifically, in a 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' game map.

The study I conducted and the method I developed to evaluate these differences used an eye tracker (as would be expected).

I'll be presenting on the last day... so I guess I'll have to keep the butterflies in my stomach calm until then.


I'll be sure to let you know how the public reacted next week! See you then.

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published by sja às 10:49

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