Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

18 June, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Outside inspiration, take 2
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:37 AM

I talked about outside inspiration in a previous challenge, but I think it’s time to talk about this topic again.

I recently spent a few days at the infamous Disneyland. There have been quite a few comparisons between online games and theme parks. Some of my thoughts after the jump.

To be honest, this trip was one of the more disappointing ones I’ve had. It was still fun for the most part, but there were a few snags. We went on a particularly busy weekend (the double-whammy of recent graduates and Father’s Day made for large crowds, I think), so things were more busy than they had been in the past. Having to wait in line for 30-40 minutes to go on your favorite ride can be a bit of a pain.

The crowds also meant that we didn’t get into the Blue Bayou restaurant one day. This is usually the high point of my trip to Disneyland. We were lucky to get in the one day we did, in fact. There was also a huge line for the new Finding Nemo-inspired submarine ride; I didn’t think it was worth 120-150 minutes to stand in line for the ride. But, still, it was disappointing.

Finally, they changed the Pirates of the Caribbean ride for the movie. I guess it was inevitable, but they really overdid it. Almost every area had some changed dialog about “Captain Jack Sparrow!” The worst was where the added a room near the end where the infamous Captain goes on about how wonderful piracy is, replacing the pirates that were trying to futilely take treasure out of the fantasy. Missing the whole point. (To show that I’m not all “get off my lawn!” old, I thought the part where they added the movie’s Davy Jones projected onto a wall of fog as you’re entering the first pirate area was a great addition.)

But, there were a few cool things. One new ride I got to ride on was the “Tower of Terror”. It’s interesting because it’s a much more elaborate version of those rides that drop you from a great height. The waiting areas are done up with a specific theme and backstory of the ride; the ride is supposed to take place in a cursed hotel in a Twilight Zone event. You are riding in one of the elevators that suffers from this curse. The first few bits of the ride are just for flavor, then you get shot up and dropped down a long distance. The final few “bounces” take you to the top floors where “elevator” doors open to the outside world so you can see how truly far up you are.

The setting adds to the feeling of dread and suspense, more than a simple ride would. The story elements also give you a reason to ride the ride more than once. The elevator doors at the top are also interesting, because in addition to showing you how far up you are, it provides a bit of a show to people on the outside who see some motion and some flashing lights up on the building that houses the ride, then they hear the screams of the people as they are dropped down. It provides some interest in the ride to people who are within hearing distance. :)

So, okay, what did I learn from a game design point of view?

* Fun is always important!
* Popularity can be a boon and a bane. It was great from a park management point of view that people were excited enough by a ride to wait in line for 2 or more hours, but it kind of sucked for those of us that didn’t want to stand in line that long.
* Change is hard. It’s hard to update something without upsetting someone. It’s especially hard to serve multiple causes with your changes: customers, marketing, engineering, etc.
* The “fluff” can add a lot to the experience. And, the experience doesn’t just matter to the people experiencing it, but also to spectators.

So, what are your lessons from the world outside of computer games?

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  1. I was in Scotland for a holiday last week, and everywhere I looked there were other tourists taking photos, sometimes of each other, sometimes of an event. I got to thinking that ‘capturing the moment’ is a hugely important social element, that hasnt really been explored to it’s full extent in my opinion. There is potential for that to get better and better. Imagine, you kill a boss in an MMO, and automatically a screenshot is taken of it dead, maybe perhaps automatically framed and stored in a ‘gallery’ part of the game. Even better imagine if you can ask the game to automatically move your guild into position for a photo or just overlay each characters model into a frame automatically. i.e. with no break to gameplay but later you look in your gallery and magically it looks like you miraculously all managed to organise a photo.

    Even further – maybe you could capture fights in video for later playback. From anyone’s perspective and any angle. I think I even suggested somewhere else here that games could write a journal for you.

    So ‘capturing the moment’ – letting people remember their own stories.

    It isn’t a brand new concept – Vanguard recently tried it, though I thought that it would of been cool if it had automatically got a ‘good’ viewpoint – most of my autoscreenshots were from behind my characters head.

    Halo 3 is planning to record video and let you snip it to the best bits + slow motion etc.

    Comment by Jpoku — 18 June, 2007 @ 3:04 AM

  2. It’s not enough to allow players to take screenshots that pile up in some backstash folder like last year’s tax files. In many MMOs, I took a ton of screenshots, but didn’t look at them until after I cancelled my subscription months later. Screenshots are an excellent influence for player retention only if the players are encouraged to review them, and not just once in a blue moon. In-game review features are better than peripheral presentations, for that purpose.

    Something like paintings (player housing decorations) that the house owner and guests can view simultaneously and discuss in-game would be ideal, but that feature needs to be crafted to the particular setting. A sci-fi game might just expand a blurry picture to a wall-sized screen in front of the player-characters (in real life, someone’s already created a way to “paint” a video screen onto a whole wall or any other flat surface). In a fantasy setting, it might be a pool of water which magically reveals an image.

    The developers might also operate an in-game museum. It would present, in-game, the most compelling of submitted player screenshots, as well as relics of epic moments in the lore’s progression. It would be a great way to tease current players with the content they might encounter if they keep playing.

    Anyway… a lesson from the outside world:

    Convenience is a big factor in sales. People very often choose which grocery store, which restaurant, or which electronics shop to go to by the convenience of its location, and how quickly the infrastructure allows customers to get in, find what they need, and get out. The same applies to games. People generally want an experience toward which their past experiences apply, not something so radical that they need a guide. If they’re looking for something in particular, they don’t want to walk all the way across the store/game to get it. They want to be able to enter the game quickly and leave quickly. They want the information they need about objects to be in big, bold letters.

    I’m not suggesting any of this necessarily applies to any given game (sometimes you want puzzles, not easy info), but it’s something to consider.

    Also, I’m not sure exactly how it could be applied to gameplay, but stores regular add temporary checkers when check-out lines become too long. Maybe there’s a way for an MMO to adjust itself when players line up behind a boss encounter?

    Comment by Aaron — 18 June, 2007 @ 10:41 AM

  3. The Tower of Terror is a masterpiece in my opinion.

    Comment by Bobby Thurman — 19 June, 2007 @ 7:05 AM

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