Thursday, October 13, 2011

I want Microsoft to target me more

I remember reading years ago a comment an analyst made about targeted advertising, and rather than complaining about the future of personalized adverts, he welcomed it.

"Advertisements only about stuff I'm interested in and that I actually might want to buy? If only!"

I was thinking about that with my gameplay experience, particularly Microsoft's Xbox Live.

It's really harder than it should be -- and requires too much active effort on my part -- to keep up with all of my games, new DLC, upcoming stuff, and the massive amount of rotating XBL (or PSN, or Steam, or ...) deals.

What I'd like is for the "My Xbox" section of my dashboard to show things like "Minerva's Den [BioShock 2 DLC] is 50% off this week!"

Or, "New The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim videos are available" (because they know I watched a few videos about the title).

Or, it would serve up developer commentary videos for a specific game, when they know I've played the demo.

Ideally, this would be customizable, so I could click and record a "not interested" response, and get things moved down in my virtual interest queue.

Basically think of it like a Netflix dashboard, where XBL, PSN's "What's New", Steam, and whatever storefront with which the Wii U ends up are serving up "You might also like", "Top 10 for Adam", etc.

Oh, and profile / identity tagging (which Netflix does NOT have), so my wife isn't messing up my queue (No, I did not watch/play that romantic comedy game where everything worked out in the end so please don't suggest "The Bachelor: The True Story" to me.)

I know it's coming. I'm lazy and impatient, so I hope it's coming sooner than later.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

X-Men: Destiny and Silicon Knights

My last post about next year's Transformers MMO linked to a post of mine from years ago about my ideas for the same type of game.

I also noticed in that same post that I'd want someone like Silicon Knights to do a "Too Human take" on licensed fare, and apply their "engagement theory" game design to established IP properties. (There's a nicely done video on their site that explains what they mean by their philosophy of game development).

Fast forward 5 years, and we've got an IP I dig (X-Men) getting the SK treatment in the form of the Activision-published X-Men: Destiny.

Sure, maybe the above is just a well-funded, slickly cut-together E3 trailer, but I'm genuinely stoked about the combinatorial potential of this game.

There's a high bar set by Raven Software's X-Men Legends games, and I'm hoping this new title is the same caliber.

Transformers Universe MMO

Nice -- Hasbro and Jagex Games Studios (RuneScape) announced the new Transformers Universe MMO at this year's BotCon.

It seems to take an aesthetic page from the Transformers: War Within comic series (and the under-appreciated Transformers: War for Cybertron game).

Wonder if they can take any game design notes from me?

(Seriously, I haz good ideaz.)

Game teaser and character design videos are below.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Changing how we assign RPG points

Y'know what? I like RPGs (Role-Playing Games, to the uninitiated). A lot.

But I like to own my character -- assigning points, building my version of a fighter (brawler/heavy/tank), rogue (thief/ninja), mage (wizard/warlock/enchantress), ranger (Legolas-want-to-be), etc.

And auto points assignment? Puh-lease. I've suffered that when playing in a party with noobs, or in game designs that freeze the game any time any person in the party stops to assign -- or even look at -- their own stats.

Assigning RPG points drives me mad, because I want the benefits and customization of explicit skills assignment, but it interrupts the game. And, yeah, it's worse when I'm in a multiplayer game, and we're all of the same mindset.

How do we assign stat points without disrupting the flow of combat, action, or story in RPGs?

My solution? Allow retroactive assignment of RPG points.

Simply put, you wouldn't be required to assign points until you get to a break point, but once you do (and once you assign the points), you get the benefits of those skills assignments retroactively to the point(s) when you earned them. Sure, you won't get things like "Attack + 10" as far as doing damage to baddies, but maybe you will get multipliers, etc.

Think about it, you're tooling through the dungeons of Azeroth (or Dr. Doom's Latverian castle, or the Morlock Tunnels), going from battle to battle, and you don't have to stop. You don't interrupt the story, you don't get caught in the "Battle. Grind. Stats management. Battle. Grind." loop. You don't tee off your party members by interrupting their game.

Not to say this isn't potentially wicked hard to implement. Maintaining the count of unassigned points isn't bad, but holding onto which permutations of level ups for previously completed scenarios would take bit of work. But it's certainly doable, with the caveat that the scope of which past events are or aren't allowed retro skills assignment is communicated and intuitive to the player. (Under the hood, there's probably a difference between how you handle checkpoint (snapshot) versus save (write-to-disc) data.)

Game designers could even couch any trade-offs in a "late skills assignment tax" (but, y'know, renamed to  something trope-appropriate).

This also creates opportunities for some cool design gimmicks.

Think about caching up your points, and then blowing things up in a single skills assignment binge fest, jumping 2, 3 or (madness!) 5 levels at once. And maybe there's a genre-appropriate "instant replay" mechanic, that will go back and play splashes of "big moments" that benefit from the skills assignment (that barmaid you chatted up in the King and Queen Tavern? You just got some more information, because of your +10 charisma allocation. (I betcha the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto could pull off this orcs and elves version of the "play-of -the-day".)

Heck, designers could create special features in hubs that make the leveling up that much more integrated to the mechanics of the game, and that much more meaningful and memorable.

Oh, and hey, I'm not saying you only do retro assignments to solve my frustration with points assignment. You still need to fix the bad, in-the-moment stats management problems, too. Don't freeze out other players while I'm checking my stats (even if I'm hosting).

Even if it's in the heat of battle, don't freeze me out from assigning my stats. Give me a "pay now or pay later" choice. Much like the jerk who takes all the loot from his party, if I choose to duck out of battle, let that impact the rest of my team when they need my help, so they can get on my case later. Give me an "Edifying Cloak of Invisibility" as I duck off into a cowardly corner to selfishly level myself up. Or, add a positive gimmick, like a "Cocoon of Character Enhancement" (can you tell I'm not a high-fantasy writer?) that protects me as I level my character, but attracts enemies who will attack my shell, weakening it, until it shatters, and they can kill me more quickly in my vulnerable state. This would add an urgency to the stats assignment, and a tactical element for team play -- I could attract a bunch of baddies (as long as I have skills points to assign), taking the heat off of my party, and they could launch an AoE attack on them (one that doesn't have friendly fire impacts, por favor; or maybe it does; Hmm ...).

So, who agrees this might solve some of this stats management headaches and game-flow interruption?

Or am I the only one who things about these things?

(By the way, the font I used to make the top graphic is "BADABOOM", from those ridiculously top-knotch guys.)

Monday, April 04, 2011

My so-called (MORE connected gamer) life

As an update to this post about connecting my gaming experiences (and connection gaps), I think I may have solved some of the gaps, and decided I don't want to fill one particular one.

Where we left off:
  1. All new blog posts auto-publish notice to Twitter and Facebook (done)
  2. Select blog posts (my acting and gaming blogs) auto-publish notice to LinkedIn (done)
  3. Xbox Live activity is automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook (partial)
  4. Select Facebook game activities post to Twitter (this is right out)
(First for #5, even though I figured out how to do it, I've decided I don't want to post my Facebook game activities to Twitter. Most of my time in those games at this point is industry research, would likely be noise to my non-Facebook following Twitter followers, and the recursive problem the Facebook-to-Twitter-to-Facebook pipe could cause -- while interesting -- is not something to which I should probably subject either set of followers.)

For #3, "partial" meant my Xbox Live activity and Facebook connectivity was limited to my Xbox Live Friends list that had also done the on-console and in-Facebook integration -- an overlap of maybe six, out of my dozens of Xbox / Facebook "friends".

So, that created this picture (the Xbox / Facebook app is orange, because it does what it's supposed to do -- just not as much as I'd like it to do):
The connected social media gamer: Gappage.


The site's headed up by Dennis Fong (former pro-gamer "Thresh", and the guy behind such things as and gaming social site; and RealNetworks/Rhapsody Ranah Edelin; and former eBayer Dave Swenson ('member me Dave? 'Member?).

Anywho, with a bit of tweaking and some recent upgrades that made it usable for my particular needs,'s slotted into the gaps I needed filled.

By creating a account, and giving it my Xbox Gamertag (just the handle, not the account or login info), raptr was able to pipe my "now playing" and Xbox Achievements info to Twitter and/or Facebook (since I have that info available as "public" in the Xbox console privacy settings).

And it lets me post some other value-add information with those two bits of data -- like notification when I pass an Xbox friend with my Achievements, and a published daily summary of what I've played in a given day.

It also lets me customize some of the messaging, so my "I'm playing" notice reads, "I'm playing [gamename]. If it's got multiplayer, let's play ..."

(Sadly, it doesn't let me customize my Achievements comparison note, so no, "I just passed aancsiid with Left 4 Dead Achievements! Face!")

So, to avoid too too much noise to my outer circle, I use Raptr's sharing configuration to pipe the "I'm playing" message to Twitter (which auto-pipes to Facebook, since I have XBL friends on both services), and pipe the Achievements, daily game summaries, and braggadocio only to Facebook (via Facebook Connect), under the assumption my Facebook crew is more of an inner circle (at least compared to the Twitterverse), and may care more, and/or are less likely to tell me if they don't.

All of that looks like this:
The connected social media gamer: With goodness.
(And for Facebook connect, there's an option to not broadcast status of Facebook games, which my connections probably appreciate.)

So, all that's got some niftage by itself, but Raptr enables quite a bit more.

By downloading and installing the Raptr desktop client, I can have it do the same things for my Steam games it does for Xbox titles -- with no extra work or configuration. (That same client will enable the same kinds of things for World of Warcraft character status and Sony PSN Trophies.)

The client can do other things like serve as a Trillian-lightish IM client, and keep tabs on your various game connections and whether they're online. To be honest (and no disrespect meant), I could care less about that particular functionality -- but maybe that will change if I can get comfortable with a better understanding of how they handle and protect things like my Windows Live ID and password. (Besides, it's kind of onerous to set up.)

So, for completeness, here's how everything looks with Steam added in the mix:
The connected social media gamer: With added Steam-y goodness.

Right. So I've probably beat this to death.

But like I said in the original post, "I'm all about planned setup with minimal follow on work (work smart to avoid working hard, when possible)".

Plus, I got to make yet more Visio charts. So ... win?

Hrm ... up next ... maybe phone integration? Ve shall see....

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Torchlight, paper prototypes, and iterative design (with kids)

I'm a big fan of Torchlight, the PC RPG darling from Runic Games.

I'm a fan because I like dungeon crawling hack-n-slash brawlers with smarts. I'm a fan of a game that takes the genre, refines what works, and adds new gameplay elements unique to the title (Pets! That you feed! And they turn into bigger, badder things! That have their own inventory and can do the runaround to return to the village and sell your unneedables, so you aren't wasting too much time doing inventory management and grieving left-behind treasures!).

Watching Runic move a successful PC game to the Xbox 360 (via XBLA this March), has been a neat case study in reworking UI, controls, and functionality to work on a different platform, without reducing features (and, in fact, back-porting some of the new features from the upcoming Torchlight II for PC to the XBLA version of the first Torchlight game).

Most of all, I like that Torchlight is fun.

But this post isn't about that; it's about usability, paper prototyping, and not learning things that keep you from learning.

Part of my background is formal usability. I've done the whole usability / human factors / user-centered design circuit at a few companies.

My kids have not.

Sure, they're firmly steeped in the comic book, toy, and video game geekdom that is going to be their life. But, because they're on the younger side, for personal and developmental reasons I've actually kept them fairly distant from a lot of the games I play (excluding stuff like Disney Epic Mickey, of course).

Recently, they started watching me play select games, including Torchlight (I turn the blood off), asking questions about RPG tropes, leveling, stat and inventory management, and the like. I was surprised by the detail and specificity of their questions, and their intuitive linking of design follow-ups based on previous answers.

Having watched me play Torchlight for a sum of 2-3 short sessions, they surprised me one Saturday morning with their own analog and paper prototypes of the game.

Granted, I'm biased, but understandably impressed not just with their reverse engineering the game rules after such short exposure to the game; I was taken with their mini-re-enactment of usability and paper prototyping.

First, there is this paper prototype they worked up.
Torchlight kids' paper prototype 1 (Too much fidelity)

They told me they abandoned it right away, because they realized after they made it, they didn't need the keyboard. What they hadn't been taught (but had figured out on their own), is a paper prototype too close to what you're trying to represent is less flexible, and it's tougher to iterate with it.

Next came this more stat-centric version of the rules. They said they didn't try to re-create the HUD like they had in the first prototype, because "they knew how that worked", and "that's not what we want to play with" (they wanted to iterate on the stats side of things).
Torchlight kids' paper prototype 2 (Sans HUD, more stats-driven)

This one captured more of the rules set, and let the girls iterate on the character, enemy, and weapons stats. This one is interesting to me, because while it starts with enemies and weapons they'd seen while watching me play, they quickly branched into the creative and invented their own "Rhino Monster", "Cobra Staff of Venom", etc.

They said they figured out, though, that as they changed the numbers (damage, rate, elemental, etc.), they were erasing and redoing work on the prototype, which was taking time and "making it messy" (my oldest has a bit of an attachment to order).

So, they created separate stat cards they could write up quickly, and lay on top of the paper prototype to "overwrite" previous stats, add stats to creatures or weapons, etc.
Torchlight kids' paper prototype 3 (separate, swappable stat cards)

Following closely behind this, as they were trying to explain the game to their two-year-old sister (they went through a lot of iteration before I woke up as a new audience). They found analog avatars a useful communication tool, so they dug out toys that closely matched what they were building, and used those to explain the game to their sister.
Torchlight kids paper prototype 4 (Physical avatars)

I'm not sure, but I get the sense at this point the prototyping effort went off-rails, and they started instead "playing Torchlight" with their toys. Wish I'd been around for (and videotaped) that.

Fascinating stuff, and fatherly pride aside, I'm impressed with how efficiently a 9- and 7-year-old worked through gameplay prototyping, not having learned stuff they'll potentially later have to unlearn in order to learn how to do it right.

Now I'm making game deconstruction and design a regular part of our unofficial learnings at the Creighton household.

(For those curious, the character, basket and potion are from the Mattel Disney Princesses (Polly Pockets-like) line; that's Bell. The sword and staff are from LEGO ninja and pharaoh single-pack capsule toys. The fish is from the Hasbro Littlest Pet Shop line. The rocks that represent embers are tiny, actual rocks. The cat I think is one of the few non-Schleich animals we own; Schleich stuff rocks.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Xbox Live Gold is Free this Weekend

(I don't work for Microsoft)

Just a reminder -- The Xbox Live Gold Membership service is free this weekend to all Xbox owners.

So, if you're normally a "Silver" or "Free" XBL user, this weekend gives you a chance to see what all of the fuss is about. Get access to multiplayer gaming, things like Netflix streaming (if you're a Netflix subscriber), ESPN-exclusive content, Gold-only (or available first) offers and demos, and a bunch of the stuff that makes gaming (for me) preferable on the Xbox.

If you find you like the service, do yourself a favor and find a friend who already has a membership to refer you -- you both end up with some decent bonuses (extra XBL time, points for purchases, XBLA titles, and the like).

(Oh, and this isn't trumping up one service over another; think of it as a gamer-centric PSA for a weekend event. So, all PSN and other game services fanboys or trolls can keep their opinions to themselves.)

Monday, January 03, 2011

My so-called (connected gamer) life

I used to have my various social sites and feeds fairly connected -- in a way I wanted them to be.

That fell apart over time (for mostly good reasons, as authentication between services tightened). Since I'm all about planned setup with minimal follow on work (work smart to avoid working hard, when possible), I stepped back to look at how I could re-set what content goes where (and when), and at the same time push forward with what I'm calling an "integrated gaming" experiment, using Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Here are the pieces of my "integrated gaming" case study:
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Xbox 360 console title)
  • Project Legacy (Facebook app)
  • Ubisoft Uplay Website
The nice thing about the Ubisoft Facebook game and Uplay site is that despite still being in beta (there are some rough edges and non-enabled content), they take care of the integration / relation between the console achievements, uPlay account, and Facebook connections (once you do all of the requisite activations).
Pieces of the Assassins Creed integrated gaming experience.
Outside of Assassin's, to simplify the effort, broadly, here are my buckets of data:
  • My various blogs (7-12)
  • Xbox Live data
  • Social site feeds (specifically, Facebook and Twitter)
Now, I generally share differently for different audiences, and here are my most-used pipes for displaying the data:
  • The World
    • My Website
    • My blogs (The World +/-)
    • Twitter
  • Friends only
    • Facebook
  • Targeted view
    • LinkedIn
    • Game aggregate site (in this, case, Ubisoft's Uplay site)
And, in graphical form:
Data sources and data pipes.

Now, I want to do at least the following:
  1. All new blog posts auto-publish notice to Twitter and Facebook
  2. Select blog posts (my acting and gaming blogs) auto-publish notice to LinkedIn
  3. Xbox Live activity is automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook
  4. Select Facebook game activities post to Twitter
For the most part, I use Twitter to fire off to my various pipes. By default, everything that goes on Twitter goes to Facebook (if I want the world to see it, I'm fine with friends seeing it -- but not vice versa). I can narrow that, and make it so that just tweets with "#fb" go to Facebook (and even though I don't use it, for clarity I've marked data in these diagrams I'd like to show up in Facebook with the "#fb" suffix).

Likewise, currently, only tweets marked with "#in" go to LinkedIn, because I want to show a more targeted, professional slice of my micro (nano? pico?) posts on that site.

So, to make 1 and 2 above "easy", I used to post all of my blogs to Twitter, which then automatically pipes all of them to Facebook. To avoid having to create and maintain a separate Twitter ID for "professional posts" to go just to LinkedIn, and because the LinkedIn BlogLink application seemed to be down, I instead added the "#in" suffix in TwitterFeed to any posts from the two blogs I want to go to LinkedIn.
Blogs --> TwitterFeed (all) --> Facebook (all) and LinkedIn (select)

Getting my Xbox Live data (Achievements and what I've played / am playing) used to be as easy as logging onto the various gaming social sites, being careful not to provide Xbox Live credentials to potentially skeevy sites. My previous site of preference was, but at some point that seems to have stopped working, and is at best running a week or so behind what I do on my Xbox 360 -- which defeats my real-time notification goal.

Also, with regular changes to Twitter's API to require OATH, etc., and Microsoft understandably not providing an RSS feed of my XBL activity (privacy concerns for minors, etc.), it's a bit tougher to populate that feed. I understand the gimping, but if I've chosen to set my XBL privacy to "everyone", I should have access to that feed to do with as I please.

I was using Xbox Live Nation's Twitter integration, which is supposed to update just once an hour, when I'm online only, but I actually don't think this works anymore, since it doesn't use OATH. Xbox apps on Facebook have been spotty at best, and they don't solve my Twitter post needs.
Xbox Live data piped to Facebook, via three implementations, and only a partial solution.

That said, I'm also using the "Xbox 360 Live Gamercard" app for Facebook for now, which says it will post my status and Achievements to Facebook (I've used it before, but it stopped working, so I removed and re-added it, but haven't yet seen it update my online status). And I'm using the official Twitter / Xbox App, thought that only shows status to people in my XBL friends list who also have the official app installed, too.

So, for now, despite Xbox and Facebook having an integration, I seem to be stuck on being able to post my gaming activity from XBL to Facebook to a narrow audience. Likewise, I'm not able to post my gaming-specific updates (say, from the Assassin's Creed Facebook app and Uplay). Really, all I need to allow this is an athenticated relationship (via OATH or OpenID) that's bidirectional between Facebook and Twitter, and a keyword scraper, so that posts with "via Project Legacy" get piped to Twitter. (Don't worry, I don't publish every level jump and achievement -- that's annoying on Facebook, and more annoying for folks that are trying to avoid Facebook.) 

So, here's where I netted out:
  1. All new blog posts auto-publish notice to Twitter and Facebook (done)
  2. Select blog posts (my acting and gaming blogs) auto-publish notice to LinkedIn (done)
  3. Xbox Live activity is automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook (partial)
  4. Select Facebook game activities post to Twitter (this is right out)
The complete picture.

If you have a better way to do this, let me know in the comments.

And maybe next time, I'll talk about the actual Assassin's Creed integrated gaming experience itself.
    Some housekeeping notes:
    • While I have my Twitter feed available to the world, and I'm very cognizant, intelligent, and responsible social media user, I would probably change my tweets to "protected" if I were working for an anti-social media corporation.
    • This diagram is loosely based on "Context Diagrams" from Atlantic Systems Guild, the folks who did a portion of my requirements and systems analysis training back in the day, and I've used many of the tools ever since.
    • For my toy review blog, I now host the pictures on DeviantART, because this gives me a another audience for cross-posting.