Rewarding Play – Game Design Consulting

For a limited time — i.e. “until I take a permanent position somewhere” — I’m offering my experience and expertise, perspective and prescriptions, vision and values, to the public through Rewarding Play, my new design consulting company*.

Yes, I’m serious. Here’s my business card.

businesscard_rplay_front

This offer could be retracted at any moment, so if you have always wanted to hear me drone on about design aesthetics or endure my opinionated critique of your game idea (but have never run into me at a bar during GDC) don’t miss this opportunity! For a list of services and rates, email services@rewardingplay.com.

 

* An “internet” company… actually, just this website

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Confirmed on Twitter

So… apparently I’m leaving Sucker Punch and someone noticed.

Breaking news on Twitter is very hip and modern, but leaves lots of room for (mis)-interpretation. It takes me dozens of slides to explain even simple design concepts; you can’t expect me to cover such a complicated topic in 140 characters. Dots were connected. Inferences were drawn. Conclusions were jumped to.

I’ve tried to set the record straighter. Not the details, of course, but at least the broad strokes.

I appreciate all the well-wishes on the news that I am leaving Sucker Punch, but please don’t take the timing as cause for concern about Second Son – it’s a great game that I am proud to have on my resume and I can’t wait for everyone to play it – or Sucker Punch – a studio on the rise with a bright future – or Sony – a great organization with some of the savviest, most pro-gamer executives in the business. And while I am honored to be mentioned in the same articles as legendary designers like Amy Hennig and Stig Asmussen, please don’t look too hard for some sinister pattern.

The truth is that any creative, vibrant industry is necessarily volatile; the only sure bet is that the next few years will not look the same as the last. Change is part of the job, but along with the upheaval and uncertainty, there’s opportunity and new challenges. It’s an exciting time to be a free agent and I’m going to go see what’s out there. Simple as that…

Of course it’s never really that simple, but that’s all you’ll get out of me.

GDC Week

I’ve been spending all my free time lately working on my GDC talk. So, if you’re at the conference, come see me play career roulette on Friday afternoon. And if you aren’t in SF this week, I should resume posting when I get back with lots of new material from the talk.

Elephants, on the other hand, NEVER forget

Design by Numbers: Cooldowns

Maximum Cooldown Time: 6-12 seconds

Purple hippos. Green puppies. Red monkeys. Short term memory is an interesting thing. Yellow birds. Blue horses. It can only hold around seven items (give or take a few, depending on your level of concentration.) Which means for some of you “Orange lizards” is going to drive the first animal right out of your working memory. This is why most game controllers have around seven buttons — White spiders, Pink fish — and most successful action games don’t even use that many. Player’s simply can’t hold all those options in their heads at the same time.

Elephants, on the other hand, NEVER forget

Orange elephants.

But the most important aspect of short term memory isn’t how many options player’s can remember, but how long it takes for them to fade. Or how short. Neurological research indicates that we start to forget details as few as 6 seconds after being introduced to them. After 300 seconds we are only half as likely to remember a concept, and after 10 long minutes… forget about it. (Sorry.) So that means, depending on your reading speed, you’ve almost certainly forgot the first animal by now.

This has a direct application in determining the length of cooldowns for abilities in action games. (In this context, a “cooldown” is the amount of time that must elapse after an ability is used before it can be used again.) The player stores the fact that an ability was used in their short term memory, and if the cooldown doesn’t expire before they forget about it, they may never use it again! It sounds preposterous, but how many times have you seen someone go through a tutorial on how to use an ability, use it successfully once or twice and appear to understand how it works, and then get utterly baffled when required to use it again just a few minutes later? How many times has that happened to you when playing an unfamiliar game? I know it has happened to me more times than I can remember. (Sorry again.)

So, if a cooldown prevents a player from using an ability for more than 6 seconds, there is a risk that they will stop using it entirely. An onscreen indicator that a cooldown has expired helps, but habituation and change blindness limit how effective an indicator can be, especially when it changes very rarely. Repetition helps, because it transfers knowledge of the ability into more permanent memory, but even this is tricky because with a long cooldown what the player will be committing to memory is the fact that the ability is unavailable, making them even less likely to use it. The options, then, are to use very short cooldowns — between 6 and 12 seconds — or rely on a very noticeable reminder when ability is available again.

You missed a spot.

Indicators have their own problems

For an action game, where onscreen indicators are not desirable, long cooldowns lead to mechanics that are often ignored and quickly forgotten. Maroon walrus.

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Year One: Uncharted Pornography

Last year I wrote about balancing multiplayer weapons, why I’ll never make a free-to-play game, the best way to exploit platform achievements, and 70+ other topics, but the ones that stirred up the most traffic were giving a 7.5 to Uncharted and “pornography games“. Well, that and when neogaf found out I had left Bungie. You can read all about the hits and misses in my yearly blog report.

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Find what you were looking for?

As you can see, I started the year out strong, largely due to my unexpected retirement, but faded when I got my new gig at Sucker Punch. Turns out starting a new job is a lot of work! But I’ve hit the six month mark (so I can start slacking off) and I’m thinking about updating the site more frequently — hopefully once a week. I’ll be making shorter posts on more narrow topics, which will probably make them more useful to the handful of game designers that read the blog, anyway. You can expect the first new content in the next few days, provided I can resist the pull of more Dark Souls.

Smile for the camera, Toothy!

Who could resist that pretty face?

Nice hat

As Time Goes By

Seems you can find me everywhere but here, this week!

I was the “special guest” on this month’s 343 Industries’ Sparkcast and had a great time reminiscing about the original Halo with David Ellis and Frank O’conner. Halo: Anniversary looks great, but I must admit it’s a little disconcerting, like someone found a bunch of my baby pictures and photoshopped themselves into the backgrounds. “Who is that standing behind you and Mom in all these pictures?” “That’s Uncle Avery, don’t you remember him?” “Not really…”

They were kind enough to invite me to the Halo Fest, which was stellar. A great night meeting with fans, as well as a surprising number of old friends and colleagues. I also got to play Installation 04, the new firefight map. This was a special treat for me since it is based off of the second level of Halo 1, which happened to be the very first encounter space I ever designed for Halo. It took me back and I have to admit, I had a moment there, thinking about those good old times.

Nice hat

343 knows how to party!

I was also practically the fifth seat on Weekend Confirmed. Garnett and the gang read through my post about Diablo III’s real money auction house and had a lively discussion. All in all I think they treated the topic with alacrity, and only called me “crazy” three or four times. They didn’t really get my argument for why I believe the main reason Diablo III is happening is to test a new business model for future Blizzard MMOs, but I ran into Garnett later at PAX and we had fun hashing it out.

And finally, I decided that brevity is the sole of twit-ter and changed from @tipofthesphere to @32nds.  Get it, “thirty seconds”? Like “30 seconds of fun“? Whatever, it’s 9 letters shorter, so now I can add #followme to all of my tweets. (Which reminds me, follow me on twitter!)

Game Developer Magazine

Game Developer

Hey!  I’m in the August issue of Game Developer Magazine!

Game Developer Magazine

I didn't make the cover.

There I was, noodling around in my little corner of the internet — creatively avoiding updating the blog — when I got an email from the editors at Game Developer asking if I’d like to write a guest column for them. Boy, would I! So I combined a couple previous blog posts (Achievements Considered and Achievements Considered II) into a single piece. And after some excellent editing by the GD staff, I am now a paid writer! Check it out!

I'm well red...

They gave me a stack.

If you aren’t a subscriber, you easily could be, and then you could read it! They even have an online version.