A Problem of Theme

For the past year, one of the personal projects I’ve been working on has been a “timewaster” mobile phone game. It was never really intended to be mindblowing, but rather for us to just play around with some new concepts as well as what we’ve learned before.

We started with a mechanic, and a gimmicky one at that, and then chose additional aspects based on our expectations for a general target market. When people asked about the game, it was strangely difficult to describe. When we discussed systems or features, it felt awkward trying to make them work in a way that we thought would make sense to the player. Even when giving the game to people to try, the core mechanic didn’t seem to make enough sense to them. That last one was possibly to do with a lack of tutorial and a game type that doesn’t give a relaxed entry point into the game, but that didn’t explain the rest of our difficulties.

Finally, it dawned on us: the problem wasn’t the game or the mechanics. The problem was the theme.

We brainstormed some alternatives that wouldn’t change the core of the game. We discussed pros and cons to each idea, how well each answered the questions of what and why for each of the existing systems. We finally settled on one that also promised a punny (thus hopefully memorable) title.

Suddenly all the questions we had about design were easily answerable. Everything had to make sense in the context of the game’s theme, and suddenly we had solutions we otherwise never would have thought of. We, and the game, now have a lot more direction.

On Giving Feedback

What’s the best way to give someone quick feedback, especially on some creative work that they have done?

I’ve seen the “Sh!t Sandwich” recommended, but while it can work as part of a longer feedback discussion (for example, an employment review), when its used wen giving a few moments of feedback, the structure is far too transparent. I find that either people recognise the pattern and assume it’s a way to essentially sugar-coat criticism, or they completely miss the critique and only think about the nice bready bits.

Likewise, a simple “hmm… try this,” can come across as know-it-all, especially as sometimes what makes sense in our head makes absolutely no sense in real life.

The best feedback format I know was taught to us by one of our Multimedia Design tutors, and follows this flow:

  1. I like…
  2. I don’t like…
  3. How I’d do it differently.

Most of the directors I’ve loved working with and would be happy to work with again also give redirection following a similar structure.

I think of it as an “Open Sandwich.” Three different layers with three different functions. It maintains the same basic parts of the Sh!t Sandwich, but has something extra on top that really turns it into a special something!

It works well because it forces the person giving feedback to really force themselves to both find something they like (useful if they’re a critical person or “always sees the flaws”), and something they hate (useful if they don’t want to offend or don’t care, or come across as insincere), as well as contribute an idea (ideas are always useful, even if they’re bad: they can trigger awesome ideas!). I find myself thinking and talking this way all the time now. If I sense some resistance, I’ll offer a, “it may not work, but let’s try it.”

Of course, when the trust is built up, the person receiving the feedback knows your intention and is more than happy to try it.

The outcome ends up being that the feedback is taken well, sometimes that idea is tried and works great, sometimes it truly is bad, but in the process of trying something new, the creator finds a new outcome that is greater than both ideas.

 

Narrative Structure: Military Service Trauma and First-Person Shooters

One of my responsibilities as Narrative Designer at Blowfish Studios has been to write and design an example/official campaign for Gunscape, which is an FPS level-builder and multiplayer game that heavily references a lot of iconic FPS of the past, and is now only two weeks away from full release!

When I started working on deciding what sort of campaign we might have (keeping in mind that this was late in the development cycle, and there was limited scope for new features), I decided that a good place to start would be to review the games that we were referencing art-wise, to see what patterns I could find in them.

I found that each fell generally into one of two narrative structures. Interestingly, it struck me that these two narrative structures correlated to two concepts described within Trauma research.

Disclaimer: I haven’t played all of the games I researched. I often had to rely on transcripts, level breakdowns, or synopses. Also, the quality or methods of storytelling is incidental to this observation of narrative structure.

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Setbacks

I’ve noticed I’ve been a bit afraid to work on my game… stalling a bit. I mean, I’m always juggling my health, as well as changing jobs and moving house over the last few months, but I’ve been distracted from working on it like I wish I was driven to do.

So I’ve been trying to really understand myself, really get a feel of what I want to be doing (and whether it fits) and figure out why it might not be on the top of my list.

Georgia&Dragon-smaller.jpgThe conclusion that I’ve reached is that I really want to play to my strengths, I really want to do a good job, and I’m scared that either I won’t be proud of this, or I will be making something of a cop-out. In other words, the idea is there, but the vision isn’t. I want to make something “me,” but of course the self is an always-changing concept, especially when going through life changes such as illness (or healing), job search/changes, or moving house. So now, I’m fairly settled, I feel well, and happier that I have been for a long time. I’ve had some moments of clarity, and I’m hoping to get a lot of work done. Hopefully you can all see something very soon!