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Jason Pook's Games Design Blog


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Jenga- Game Theory

Jenga is a tabletop game which requires skill physically and mentally, it was created by Leslie Scott in 1983 through a game that had she had played with her family in the 1970’s. The rules of jenga are that you have a set of 54 blocks, stacked 3 across each time rotated when piling up. This creates the Jenga structure, from that then each player is to remove a block at a time and place it on top of the structure, with each move the structure gets taller and loses stability. This requires alot of physical skill in patience, control and balance accompanied by mental skill of judgement, composure and resilience. To end the game the structure will fall over and whoever it was that made it fall over is the loser of the game, you them rebuild and that player is eliminated until a winner is determined.

Flow:

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s theory of flow applies to jenga when you are playing its been going on for a while so the tower is high but you have the skill to remove another block. Jenga covers most of the flow chart just like Tetris, it gets harder as the game goes on with each block that rises there are less and less options to take a piece without knocking the structure over.

flow

You begin in any area jenga is never easy the game can be over in the first block if you dont have the hand stability and control to remove a piece, most would start in control as the challenge level is in the middle and everyone should have high skill at the start to be able to remove a piece. Whilst you play though and it gets far on the immersion can emotionally drive you crazy, begging for the tower to fall over on your opponent so it doesn’t come back round to you, that’s the thing soon as you have taken your move you worried its coming back around the tension to keep composure on your turn combined with the wait for your turn if people take time makes for an immersive experience.

Categories of Play:

For Roger Caillois’s ‘categories of play’ Jenga would fall under primarily ‘Agon’. Agon is games of competition, with Jenga you are competing against other players to try survive your turn and place your block carefully on top to build the structure, the goal is not to be the person who makes the wrong move and collapses the statue as then you are eliminated as the loser.

It also falls under ‘Alea’. Alea is games of chance, in Jenga sometimes you slowly wriggle out that seemingly impossible block with a sweat on your brow to place it on the top, the structure wobbles a bit and you call for everyone not to move. There is a chance you go for the wrong block and have to move it as you have touched it dependent on the rules (I normally play a feel is alright but push and you have to move it), also the chance other people make a mistake and not you could keep you in the game when you know you will struggle on your next move.

Bartle Test:

To link this into Bartle’s test which defines you as a player through a series of questions this type of game being puzzle based and score based would appeal more to an ‘achiever’ style of player rather than the others due to the achiever always wants to win, in jenga the only goal is to survive and hope the other players knock over the structure before your turn. Other than that the categories of players cant apply to jenga.

When we played Jenga in the studio it was arguably the greatest game of jenga I had ever witnessed, the tower just kept going and going on the first round Me, Barrie, Rinalds and Phil wasn’t letting up. Rinalds pulled off some things I didnt think was from this universe he must have manipulated physics to make that structure balance but it worked, this was similar through every game we was all somehow masters of jenga and control the final game was myself and Rinalds, seeing what he had done it felt optimistic that I would have any chance he appeared to be raised in a school and purely taught jenga. But after grueling turn after turn he made a mistake and I won, the euphoria was uncontrollable. This clearly can be a game for fun or serious competition, we started the exercise to analyse the game for game theory and then it turned into a serious competition which was almost hysterical at times as we had no clue how the game could continue. The level of flow and immersion in the jenga game when it was at this stage of anxiety and unknown when it would go was a psychoanalytically available to analyse our behaviors. Jenga allows the player to engage in mental and physical challenges as the difficulty increases the emotional reactions to the game increase with it, this could both effect the player positively or negatively it could overwhelm them into making a mistake by panicking on their turn or motivate them further to win the session.

Here is an example of the emotional reactions towards an insane move on Jenga:

As you can see after performing this crazy move the lady celebrates in disbelief the emotional reaction to completing a move in this game is there with every move which makes it a great immersive and re-playable game.

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SSX- Game Theory

 

SSX is a snowboarding game which required you to race whilst pulling off tricks, the main part of the game is the tricks as you gain boost and amount high scores through landing the tricks. It was released in 2012 by Electronic Arts (EA) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as the latest addition to the SSX series. It features single and multiplayer online, so online leaderboards and co operative trick races etc could be done to compete against eachother.

Flow:

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s theory of flow applies to SSX through score and skill, In SSX you have to use skill, timing and control to pull off the jumps, grinds and tricks to the highest of quality and gain large scores, the more combinations of tricks you landed it would fill up your “Tricky” meter and once this was full you would activate in when you wanted to pull of your characters most ridiculous stunt for massive score. To achieve flow it required alot of practice, the skills were performed by a combination of precise analog stick movements and buttons this wasn’t picked up easily as alot of memory was needed. Otherwise you was just doing your best you could by randomly attacking your controller to see what happened. When you was on a big downhill mountain with alot of jumps and grinds and you could pull off your best tricks (different ones each time as otherwise your score was knocked for being repetitive) then you really enjoyed the game and hit the big scores.

flow

To link to the diagram for SSX one game mode was a deadly descent now this would involve the most dangerous snowboarding downhills possible it had a different theme each time such as trees, rocks and darkness” some would require flying with wing-suits to get over huge chasms in the mountains. Every time I played these it Anxiety, I had high skill level on the game but when it came to a deadly descent you never knew what was coming and if you switch off at any point it was over and restart the drop. Soon as you reached the bottom the sense of achievement overwhelmed you as it was done, over and you had won through skill, luck, and persistence most of the time from failing. Then flow would occur on your favourite downhill where you knew how to hit the big scores but wanted to beat your previous 64 million score as your friend ad just text you his 66 million score.

Categories of Play:

For Roger Caillois’s ‘categories of play’ SSX would fall under primarily ‘Agon’. Agon is games of competition, Your goal in the game is to go down the mountains to gain as much score as possible through tricks and be awarded with medals for your efforts, this would give you credits to buy better gear and improve your downhill performances. Also the online multiplayer allowed you to race against other players or friends to get to the finish line but you had to do this in style as boost only came with completed tricks otherwise you would be slow, then the leaderboards visible to see how your friends did on that particular single player mountain would want you to beat their score or even boost your own so they have no chance.

It also falls under ‘Alea’. Alea is games of chance, on the deadly descents as I explained it required alot of skill to time jumps and avoid obstacles but you never knew what was coming around the corner, when its hundreds of trees and your just hoping to make it through without being knocked of your board and restarting.

Illinx can be applied in the boost feature or damage. Illinx games of vertigo/ confusion, when you boosted it blurred the screen around you distorting your vision, then if you landed a stunt badly or hit an object your screen would flash red as if you was hurt. Also on one deadly descent if you stayed in the shadows too long you was too cold and your screen would freeze over distorting vision more and more until you failed as your character had frozen to death.

Bartle Test:

To link this into Bartle’s test which defines you as a player through a series of questions this type of game being score/skill based it would appeal more to an ‘achiever’ style of player rather than the others due to the achiever always wants to win. You always want to win the race but to do that you must also do it with tricks in style to gain boost and score. The added multiplayer features increase competition through leaderboards and co operative play.

‘Socialiser’ also applies as the game is multiplayer, mainly through the leaderboard system that compares your scores to your friends or the world if you change the settings. You are trying to achieve but also scoialising with other people by submitting a score or time to a mountain track.

SSX has always been one of my favourite games, despite the tricks being rather gravity defying and unrealistic the game is simply awesome. The challenge of learning the tricks to maximise player experience and achievement is the type of game I get fully immersed in, when it required time to learn and master the game its always rewarding for me to complete the game. Currently I no longer own SSX due to selling it to a friend but after replaying it for Game Theory I will be reinvesting in a very good game.

Here is some gameplay of SSX with all the features I have explaining with tricks, racing and score from GameSpot’s YouTube channel:


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Pac-Man-Game Theory

pac-man-logo1

Pac-man is an arcade game that was developed by Namco and released in 1980. Pac-man is a little yellow circle with a segment missing (mouth) which believe it or not was a design from a pizza with a slice taken out. Pac-man runs around a maze to pick up as many of the dots as possible whilst avoiding the ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde). If you get caught by any of them pac-man dies and you lose a life, once all your lives are gone the game is over and your score from how many dots you collected is revealed.

Flow:

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s theory of flow applies to pac-man as the arcade game requires the player to deal with collecting dots whilst navigating around the maze quickly or intelligently to avoid the enemies, If you eat a big dot you can then eat an enemy but only for a limited amount of time as they return to the ghost enclosure to come back to get you again. The aim is to collect all the dots and gain as many points as possible, the difficulty is the same but you can get yourself into difficult situations where the ghosts are closing in on you and your reactions really have to be sharp to get away otherwise its a life lost. I achieved flow in pac-man due to playing against class students to try get the highest score possible so I was really focusing on every move made and how I can get to the next set of dots without being caught.

flow

Using Csikzentmihalyi’s flow diagram Pac-man can fall into any of them categories it depends how addicted and immersed you in the game. Some cases of flow when Pac-man was released were quite extreme, in the documentary “Thumb Candy” they meet the makers of Pac-man to discuss the popularity of the game 24minutes into the video is the section on Pac-man. 28 minutes in they mention it made “60 billion yen, so roughly 60 million dollars…in one year” for Namco.

Categories of Play:

For Roger Caillois’s ‘categories of play’ Pac-man would fall under primarily ‘Agon’. Agon is games of competition, with Pac-man you are playing to achieve as much points as possible which will require you to survive longer and gain a high score. The replayability to make this a competition with others includes leader boards and also trying to beat your own personal best. An example of Agon would be when we was asked to play free online PC games to later analyse through game theory and in teams of 4 we was to also play against each other for score then rank through score before moving onto the next game.

It also falls under ‘Alea’. Alea is games of chance, with Pac-man the movement of the enemy that the game presents you with is that chance, you could be pinned in a corner by the enemies but somehow manage to escape the navigate randomly but primarily try to chase you but if not they patrol the maze. So chance has a part to play with the enemy, some would say skill is a large part of avoiding them but sometimes you just need that bit of luck to reach the big dot in time before they catch you and eat them all to give you space to continue.

Bartle Test:

To link this into Bartle’s test which defines you as a player through a series of questions this type of game being puzzle based and score based would appeal to an ‘achiever’ style of player due to the points system and the survival aspect.

But it also links to the “Killer” category as Pac-man is a predator, he eats all the dots and if a big dot is activated can eat his enemies which rewards you with bonus score. Therefore it does have killer aspects to the gameplay and rewards.

Socialiser can also link in as when Pac-man was a hugely popular arcade game people would go down to the arcade to play with or against each other, at the end a leaderboard would reveal and you could enter your initials so you was constantly competing with others if you should so choose to treat it that way.

My personal playing of pac-man was that I was either really good at it or just rubbish, when I doing well I enjoyed the game alot and wanted to play more but when i was doing badly it just frustrated me and i wanted to move onto another game. Emotional reactions to the game shows this game has a psychological effect on the player through performance. This is arguable present in all games but this proves the game could be critically analysed using psychoanalysis as a perspective.


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Dead Space and Outlast Psychoanalysed.

The two video games I will be comparing by using psychoanalysis will be “Outlast” and “Dead Space” on the characters of Miles Upshur the reporter on Outlast and Isaac Clarke a space engineer in Dead Space both are the main protagonists.

Outlast is a first person horror game set in a mountain asylum, you the player are a reporter who has received a tip of suspicious goings on at this location anonymously. By the time you realise to abort this case it’s too late your trapped and have to find a way out through many jump scares and monsters or crazy people running around. The story behind it is contextual to the real MKUltra experiments conducted by the CIA in the 50s, 60s and 70s in the U.S. and Canada. Those experiments, which are still shrouded in secrecy and that some think continue to this day, dealt with drug use, torture and some form of mind control. Instead of a narrative to the story the game is run by individual investigations throughout by the player using his video camera which engages you in the story to try solve the madness. It’s purely designed to make the gamer suffer as you only have three options told to you at the start of the game “Run, hide or die” no combat skills or weapons to assist you which just fuels the fear. The “Walrider“ is the main antagonist of the game who causes the sacrifices of the mental patients and worship as it is all powerful apart from the machine which allows it to live and host a body.

Dead Space is a 3rd person futuristic horror game set in space on a malfunctioning mining ship called the usg ishimura which is used for new resource gathering planetary methods called “Planet cracking”. Isaac Clarke a space engineer is sent to fix the ship, to find the ship is thriving with an undead species called the Necromorph. Isaac is also looking for his girlfriend Nicole who is assigned to the ship, he received a confusing message of “I wish it didn’t have to end this way”, throughout the battle of uncovering what’s behind the Necromorph he is also going through his own battle with sanity as the “marker” which controls the Necromorph also causes Isaac’s hallucinations and visions which constantly freak out and confuse the player. The psychological battle with the church of unitology the cult behind the Necromorph’s and his nightmares are the driving force of the plot. You fight to fix all this and your own problems it’s a truly on edge game with plenty of jump scares.

I have chosen outlast and the main character Miles Upshur as I want to analyse how the character is used to make you feel as a player like you are in the game. You never see the face of the character you instantly place yourself due to the 1st person view as the character despite the name which is easily overlooked. “That’s the thing about survival horror: if you’re empowered, then the threat is not as big…you feel you have to be proactive to fight back. But if you know there is no way you can fight back, then that’s when I think the horror is most effective.” This is a quote from co-founder of Outlast Philippe Morin describing the mindset behind the mechanics of the game, I read into this further and found out they got inspiration of this from a game called “Amnesia” this game released in August 2010 was a clear inspiration for outlasts game play style of a huge focus on psychoanalysis and how they can engage the player into the world of horror, with quotes like this “I think it is safe to say that Amnesia is the most successfully frightening game to have been made.” – Rock, Paper, Shotgun so basing the game on this was a solid bit of context for a successful horror. With that in mind it really helps assist the player’s engagement with the character, you feel his vulnerability, his fear and his desperation throughout various escapes and pitch black navigations. The feature that supports this the most effectively I feel is the 1st person view, this places you immediately in the mindset that you are Miles Upshur, you experience and consider all the notes and video clips he records throughout the game like a detective to try figure out where to next or what’s around the corner. The use of 1st person is supported by the camera you use to record the happenings of the story, but the battery life on this camera is reliant on you finding batteries which are scarce causing missed clues and some scary no night vision glowing eyed enemy moments. Its features include whilst running away you can look behind to see how close your pursuer is, if you approach a corner your hand will rest on the wall so you can peak round and the options to bust open doors or be silent in your stealthy movement depends on the situation its truly immersive and slowly engages your connection with the characters physicality as the game goes on, not forgetting the increasing audio of Upshur’s breathing if people are spotted or noises are made which automatically engages you to do the same. “While there’s rarely any let up in the tension, it always feels like you’re in the hands of a developer at the top of its game, revelling in making the player uncomfortable, but never forgetting to delight at the same time.”- Edge review online. This quote from edge’s review rated 4.5stars of 5 sums up the intentions of the designer they love making you believe it’s you but don’t neglect some breathers so it’s not overwhelming tension. Although everyone around him is mentally unstable with signs of dementia and insanity miles manages to keep mental stability until becoming the host of the antagonist the walrider in the end when he disconnects its original host’s life support system causing Miles to be in the end the cause and reason behind his investigation so you the player are essentially mentally stable but end up the cause of the insanity through digging into something you shouldn’t have. The player never loses touch with the game as there are no cut scenes in the game so you are purely playing and stopping the take notes then back to the madness, no breakages in the plot means smooth game play that doesn’t disengage you at any point and never reveals the appearance of Miles.

I chose Isaac Clarke the main character in dead space as I want to question the player’s engagement into another person’s journey of both mentally and physically how they use realism of the story and backstory with cut scenes to emotionally attach you to this character. Isaac had previously been living with Nicole Brennan prior to her assignment to the usg ishimura 2 years before the blackout of communications, so when assigned to go fix it the mission became much more personal and also engaging as despite a alien outbreak there is focus to be achieving that “epic win” that Jane McGonigal talks about in her TED talk on “gaming can make a better world” as you the player want Isaac to succeed. Only to be dragged along his path of insanity when he contracts dementia, you are witness to this man’s mental torture which the ‘marker’ uses Nicole to haunt Isaac despite the actual truth being she died at the start of the outbreak taking her own life which is the end of the video clip that he is sent, so the marker uses her to try destroy him and you which several frightening hallucinations and very eerie voices in his head. This powerful narrative really drags you deep into someone’s mental instability and you connect the protagonist Isaac strongly creating your own mistrusts and views on other crew members when separated who also seem to use “We will find Nicole” to manipulate Isaac further into helping them. The key to Isaac’s recovery was acceptance and letting Nicole go after the shocking realisation of her suicide, you the player witness all this as a 3rd person party this gives you the opportunity to derive your own theories on what has actually happened and what hasn’t, in some cases you are wondering what is a hallucination and what isn’t, this psychological journey is of Isaac’s mentality but also your depiction of the actual events. By designing the game in this way you the player naturally try to predict what is coming next or who did what, as soon as that kicks in the writers grip you with many twists and shocks you never saw coming like Kendra a crew member betraying Isaac trying to escape on her own to her own peril. As the 3rd person view with many means of killing these necromorphs it gives you chance to appreciate the world around you more you pay more attention to the finer details in the scenery for example in one of the elevator hallucinations where Nicole’s eyes look like they are beaming right through you the effect you can see on Isaac really immerses you in his feelings of what horror he must go through and how you have to get him out. Also 3rd person allowed me to see the physical exertion going into the character when taking hits or dealing damage, he hobbles on low health grabbing his stomach breathing heavily that engagement of visuals supports the emotions you are supposed to feel for the protagonist further supporting his cause. But they do not give him a voice “the original which features no voice acting for the character and is only seen out of his helmet at the very beginning and ending of the game” (giantbomb.com article) so by doing this you the player make your own assumptions on his personality and all of his features due to the majority of the game he is just a suit.

I want to contrast the differences between the user experience of 1st person in outlast to 3rd person in dead space and how it makes you feel. This is a much debated topic in gaming culture of which is better for a horror genre game 1st person or 3rd person. Multiple blogs I have sourced have different views here are some “First person, hands down. Instead of being some bodiless entity floating over the left/right shoulder of main protagonist, you ARE the protagonist seeing what he sees through his eyes.”- (horrorgameforums.com) that is in support of 1st person but on the other hand “I feel third person would be better because you can see your character, which makes you more immersed in the game and feel the horror that the character is experiencing. Also, you can see yourself get attacked”- (yahoo.com reference question) but then there is the middle ground of “I think that 3rd person tends to emphasize the player’s sense of vulnerability via the visible exposure of the player character, whereas 1st person emphasizes the sense of viscerality by situating the player as the direct recipient of attacks. 3rd person horror = exposure, 1st person horror = enclosure. Each perspective has its respective strengths, but given that ‘horror’ tends to encompass a range of emotions, it’s hard to say any one is better than the other.” (idlethumbs.net/forums Walter). Many views can be taken on this from let’s say quote 1 the capitalised “Are” emphasises his point that you are the character you see through his eyes so you experience his fear. Whereas the contrast quote 2 references to having a connection to the character and seeing pain through emotion or physicality it’s like you’re on a journey together. Then quote 3 sums up the differences and how you pick specific ones to portray specific styles of horror game exposure or enclosure. My personal view is that 1st person is lots more engaging so I was alot more scared of outlast than i was of dead space purely down to it felt like I was the main character throughout you could be stood still in a narrow corridor thinking im not going down there and have no idea that a 8ft hulk like monster is behind you towering over your body that’s the mindset I was in. Yes I did feel a connection to Isaac as a protagonist and that I was there to guide him with weapons but I can’t think of anything more scary than 1st person realistic horror with no means of fighting back relating back to outlasts co founder quote of “That’s the thing about survival horror: if you’re empowered, then the threat is not as big…you feel you have to be proactive to fight back. But if you know there is no way you can fight back, then that’s when I think the horror is most effective.”

 

The comparison of the two games I would have to go down the path of the usage of mental instability to drive or coincide with the storyline. Outlast uses it alot being set in a ‘mental asylum’ but it did have some contextual reference to it as explained before in mysterious CIA conspiracies of mind control and dementia. Whilst your character isn’t mentally unstable everything around him seems to be crumbling all of which you are trying to get to the bottom of with many scary obstacles and strange sacrificial occurrences going on. I feel the use of mentality in outlast is key to capture it correctly in the game if they hadn’t have possibly gone over the top in some cases with the doctor taking a few of your fingers you might not have believed the scale of the madness which then loses interest.

Whereas in Dead Space not only is Isaac fighting a alien outbreak you are being affected by the ‘marker’ which caused the outbreak and is now making Isaac lose his sanity taking the form of Nicole his loved one in hallucinations a side effect of dementia. It’s a real exhausting journey for you and Isaac slaughtering countless necromorphs and dealing with what is real and what isn’t as his condition escalates. This is vital in the storyline you really gain connection with Isaac it’s like you are on this journey together but you’re not sure what is what or who to trust as nobody seems to be trustworthy as they use Nicole as a driving force for Isaac to keep going thinking he will find her and repent for telling her to take the job here in the first place. Most people said on the blogs I read for 3rd person horror vs. 1st person that the 3rd person narrative does sometimes heavily rely on strong narrative and dead space really pulled it off “An incredibly atmospheric and disturbingly gruesome deep-space adventure that will haunt your dreams and leave you begging for more.” – (LarkAnderson on October 13, 2008 gamespot.com review 9/10).

So in both games this feature is a key factor of the narrative and has been pulled off successfully enough to make the different interpretations of dementia and insanity believable for the player so that they can truly engage in the game.

In conclusion the topics I have discussed behind the psychoanalysis of main protagonists of Dead Space Isaac Clarke and Outlast Miles Upshur is that both games have different styles of engaging the player into the horror by means of either game play realism or gripping narrative throughout. If I have to pick my choice of which did the better job of getting into my head it would have to be outlast purely on the basis of the 1st person view I can’t help but feel that when the character Miles is attacked that I sit there and say “that monster just hit me run!” emphasis there on ‘me’ whereas with Dead Space it was “Isaac run keep going its behind you” or “he’s dead” not im dead so it was more a personal engagement to believing it’s me that made it more scary. But to keep it neutral ground for their different but also similar styles of horror game you can’t say either one had done a bad job at making the player engage with the game in some way that would grip them to the screen begging for more.

 

References

Butler, M. 2014. Interactive Nightmares: A History of Video game horror. Kindle ed. Amazon.

GameSpot. 2014. Dead Space Review. [online] Available at: http://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dead-space-review/1900-6199349/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Giantbomb.com. 2014. Isaac Clarke (Character) – Giant Bomb. [online] Available at: http://www.giantbomb.com/isaac-clarke/3005-1197/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Horrorgameforums.com. 2012. First Person vs. Third Person?. [online] Available at: http://www.horrorgameforums.com/public.html/showthread.php?95-First-Person-vs-Third-Person [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Idlethumbs.net. 2014. Horror games, 1st person or 3rd person? – Video Gaming – Idle Forums. [online] Available at: https://www.idlethumbs.net/forums/topic/962-horror-games-1st-person-or-3rd-person/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Krawczyk, M. and Novak, J. 2014. Gave Development Essentials: Game Story & Character Development.

Official PlayStation website. 2014. Outlast. [online] Available at: http://uk.playstation.com/ps4/games/detail/item620625/Outlast/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Official PlayStation website. 2014. Outlast. [online] Available at: http://uk.playstation.com/ps4/games/detail/item620625/Outlast/ %5BAccessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Outlast Wiki. 2014. Miles Upshur. [online] Available at: http://outlast.wikia.com/wiki/Miles_Upshur [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Polygon. 2014. Outlast is a stealth horror game designed to make the player suffer. [online] Available at: http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/19/4444548/outlast-is-a-stealth-horror-game-designed-to-make-the-player-suffer [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].