Gamercamp just ended and now that I’m home safe (and completely exhausted) I’m happy to report that it was a fantastic experience. Jaime and Mark ran a great show. We met a bunch of really cool fellow indie developers and artists, saw some incredibly insightful presentations, and made ourselves a paper prototype game, in collaboration with Jaime Woo and a couple of other Gamercamp volunteers, called Sandblocks.
So, lots to talk about!
Cheating as a Game Mechanic
Firstly, I’d like to thank Andy Keenan for an enthralling presentation (and everyone in the room for the ensuing discussion) regarding Cheating as a Game Mechanic. His focus on flow maintenance in games had everyone in the room reconsidering how to design game difficulty from a totally different viewpoint.
His central idea is hugely important but amazing in its simplicity: Maps, cheat codes, time rewinding, FAQs, YouTube playthroughs and wiki entries all share a common thread of being a form of meta-gaming that could be thought of as cheating, and yet many of these are embraced as viable parts of play while others are shunned as being detriments to play or “impure experiences”. But shouldn’t we, as designers, be most invested in maintaining immersion, enjoyment and flow for our players? Why not embrace these as ways to improve games and maintain flow, rather than rejecting them?
Considering this subject from the player’s perspective, it becomes clear why some players cheat. They’re either bored because the game is too easy or the game is too hard and they’re frustrated with it. It’s just more engaging to cheat than that to play the game otherwise. If we can accommodate for these cheaters and thus make a greater portion of our players engage with the game, as it was designed, then we should be doing that. Design difficulty with “cheats” in mind as real usable mechanics. Design with flow as your goal and try to achieve the optimum level of difficulty using whatever mechanic works. Don’t be squeamish about it!
After all: Regenerative health is the next-best thing to God mode and it completely revolutionized first-person shooters, and Ubercharge literally IS God mode — used in a limited role without throwing game balance out the window. A tip of the hat to Bungie and Valve for being ahead of the game on this one. And again, a big thanks to Andy for doing the research on this to make us aware of the potential design options that are available in “cheating”.
I bet I’ll have more to say about this soon…
Later on, we spent some time playtesting a paper prototype of a game by Get Set studios and ended up turning the game on its head. (Oops!) It turned out they wanted to see what people would do with freeform rules, but honestly the game was in an embryonic state and was kind of unplayable from the get-go, so we made things work. With the help of Jaime Woo and a couple of other Gamercamp volunteers, we put together a block game that you play by designing the level to get your block from the starting point to the end point by following conveyers.
The idea was a minor hit and was posted up on the wall from people to interact with; to solve our own meticulously designed level, or to make their own levels for people to try. Here at Axon, we’ll be working on a Flash prototype of this in the next little while because we think that playing around in this game space will offer some cool insights if not lead to a cool little app. We hope to show you guys a little prototype soon.
Having made something awesome of our minigame, we took a break for lunch and went to Subway, only to discover a terrible thing: Subway has nerfed turkey and meatball subs.
“How can this be?!” you might be saying. Well, Subway has introduced some new pricing categories to subvert my gaming of their menu. It has always been that turkey was the sub to get on the Select Subs menu ($6.00) to keep me from bumping up into the Signature Subs ($7.50) and meatball was the one to get from the Classic Subs menu ($5.00) to be cheap. However, with the introduction of the Classic Plus and Select Plus categories, both subs have risen in price by $0.75. People from all over use the turkey and meatball strat to save money on the ridiculously overpriced upper-tier subs, and Subway finally caught on. So now the Subway menu developers, in their infinite wisdom, have called this an “exploit” and patched it. I might as well quit the game.
If you ask me, it’s ham that’s OP. <Redacted to prevent Subway from getting any further ideas> =P
Anyway, thanks to everyone who came out to Gamercamp for an awesome time and for all of your collective energy, knowledge, creativity and passion. The indie gaming community in Toronto is as awesome as we’ve heard, and we can’t wait to dig in deeper. We’ll see you guys at Gamercamp next year, but hopefully we’ll encounter one-another again sooner than that!