Game Design Ideas

Game Design, Artificial Intelligence, Complex Systems

The well-test simulator is now officially in beta. I will be sending out demo versions shortly to all who requested it. For now, I have recorded a video that shows some of the basic capabilities when opening, cleaning up, and testing a well on a couple of chokes. A second video will show metering, and using the surge/gauge tanks, as well as generating reports for MS Excel.


Please leave feedback here or on the YouTube channel. I will attempt to post higher quality videos if requested.

And for my ex-Flopetrol friends out there:

Flopetrol Scheme

I thought it would be appropriate to give you a quick report on how the well-test simulator project is coming along. Here is a short list of the latest batch of improvements:


1. The interface has been spiffed up and allows for plotting of most important parameters and saving the plots as .png files for reporting purposes.

2. Every action and all gauge values are recorded and can be saved to a CSV format for later processing

3. The well test log can now be saved in a clean text format for later analysis.


1. The mathematical flow model has been improved and it is quite optimized and stable.

2. Leaks now release H2S that spreads based on terrain height and wind direction. There are also spill and gushing particles and sounds matched to leak pressure and exit diameter.

3. Player actions (walking, running, etc.) now use up energy, and being exposed to H2S will lower health. Right now these are just indicators, but they will be expanded to allow for a bit of “gamification”!

4. Heat radiation from burners is modeled.

5. Gas flare and oil burner on burner booms now show more realistic graphics, and the flame sizes and back-pressures are modeled.


1. You can now select the appropriate level of visual quality. The simulation will run with at least 30 frames/second on cheap laptops on the lowest setting, and give you at least 60 frames/second on a medium-priced gaming computer with the highest visual settings.

2. Volume controls for environment sounds/effects/voice were added to give users more control.

3. High-quality water was added back in, but can now be disabled for better frame rates.


I also added some screenshots to show some of these updates and the general visual quality:












Some of my kind testers have been reporting frame rate issues on older machines. In order to improve frame rates – and give you guys some variety – I have added a dusk desert level with a simplified terrain, no water and very light vegetation. This improves frame rates by 25% on some machines.

Desert Scenario 00

Desert Scenario 02

Desert Scenario 01

hollywood dungeon - Part 2In part I of this article I discussed the six-stage Hollywood storytelling formula and how it can be applied to level design. I also promised to show you a practical example in the form of a TF2 Level. If you want to play the level before accompanying me through the design process go ahead and have a look.

If you can’t play the level you might have to get the latest Unity 4 web player plugin for Mac or PC. You will need at least version 4.0.0f5.

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Hollywood Dungeon Level Design

Almost all Hollywood movies released in the past forty years are based on screenplays that use a singular structure. This article will introduce the Hollywood screenplay formula, and examine ways to apply that same structure to gameplay design. We won’t be using the screenplay structure for a game story, rather, we will attempt to create a narrative using only game mechanics, and more specifically, applying the formula to the design of levels and play sessions in different game genres.

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The well-test simulator is finally ready. I will be doing a month of testing and bug-fixes before releasing the beta version. If anyone would like to participate in the beta test please drop me an email at admin@ game design ideas . com. Here is the final set of screenshots after all the assets were put in place.


You can direct flow to one of the two burners, using oil/gas manifolds

the amount of smoke/fire is determined by flow rates

wind direction and speed affect direction of smoke

If you want to see more screenshots keep reading…

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Over the past few months I have been gathering information on the cost of development and publishing of a number of AAA video game titles. The games I picked all did reasonably well in the marketplace, but none of them were in the top  releases in 2011/2012 (in terms of sales). I averaged costs and revenues over the 8 titles and tried to take into consideration the differences in publishing contract terms (e.g. some publishers set up and pay for developer presence at trade shows, others don’t) and definition of roles (Assembling models in levels is considered art in some companies and design in others, while enemy AI is design to some developers, and code to others).

After a lot of adding and rounding in excel, and having to make multiple researched guesses (not all numbers are available) I managed to distill all the information in one diagram. In this diagram The total sales revenue is depicted to the left and costs are on the right. The thickness of the branches defines the relative size of the numbers and the percentages are in terms of total sale revenue (not profit). I hope this will give gamers and developers alike a better idea of how the money flows within our industry.


Game development and publishing costs

For a better resolution a .pdf version of the diagram is available too.

Having worked in the industry for 8 years in all kinds of capacities, and having asked many of my colleagues about the lessons they learned for their future projects, I thought it might be useful to put together a list of all the advice I got from the scrap notes and emails I had lying around. I also got some motivation after reading the excellent blog entry by a friend and finding many parallels with my own impressions. I deliberately removed most of the personal or company-related stuff that would only be relevant in a very particular setting or in a very limited number of companies in the hopes that this list will appeal to and be useful for a broader range of people working on games. As I continue to learn more lessons and meet more people with their own hard-earned wisdom, I will expand an update this list, and I invite you to join me in expanding it.

1. Design

· Do essential designs early. It is better to have a starting seed point that is a bit off, rather than having nothing to work off! Some questions are extremely important, and they need to be answered and communicated to the designers on day 1 of actual development. E.g. how many mobs per minute will the player encounter? How large will the levels be? How large will the visibility radius be? How many times will the average player die/hour on medium settings? How smart will your NPC AI be? How long will a confrontation with X enemies last? What is the scrolling speed (e.g. in a platformer)? What is the walking, running, driving, speed cap? Jump height? How many enemies will be on-screen in a minor/major battle? How will the targeting system work? How many levels/playfields? How many hours of play-time per level? How many mob types/models in total? How many different AI Brains in total? If there are bosses, how many per level?

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What are game developers thinking! From the horrible first day of the Diablo III launch, where many players couldn’t use Blizzard Login servers to launch their game, to the buggy and laggy launch of Star Wars Galaxies (Sony online entertainment, 2003) or the Long queues that Aion (NCSoft) players had to suffer in the first days and weeks or the horrible design flaws in Fable III (Lionhead Studios) which is supposed to be an established franchise after all, it is becoming clear that most game companies are having quality control and planning issues. What is interesting to know is that no amount of Publisher intervention (yes, publishers are supposed to help with the planning!), preorders (and hence money in the bank), QA team members or prior success stories seem to prevent these issues from happening over and over again. Why, even World of Warcraft ran into the issue of having way too few game servers at launch, blocking many subscribers from logging in or keeping them in long queues, and we all know how that little title turned out.

In this article I will attempt to describe some of the most common reasons why these issues happen at launch, what developers can do to prevent them and to mitigate their effects on the longevity and public acceptance of the game, along with tips for players, who already have invested in the game, and how they can make sure that the games they love get better rather than worse at release.

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As we pick up speed at Funcom to get The Secret World ready for release in April 2012, It is becoming clear to me that I need get this project done before we enter the death-march stage at work. Hence, I decided to get busy with the code and GUI, and though nothing is final, it is all starting to come together.

The mathematical model is coded, almost all valves, level meters and gauges are hooked up to the model and work as intended, and a placeholder GUI allows access to the basic functions. Now if I could only find time to code the GUI elements for the real-time Barton Chart recorder (The one on the separator) and manage to figure out a smart way of implementing users swapping out orifice plates on the Daniel orifice meter – and detecting any mistakes they make, obviously – I would be a happy camper.

Here are a few of the latest screenshots. Please let me know if there is anything you don’t like, or like about the setup.

To see more screenshots keep reading…

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Here are a couple of screenshots of the textured assets that show some of the controls you will be able to manipulate in the simulation in the graphic engine. This is still a work in progress, so you’ll have to forgive some of the sloppiness. Currently, I am working on the scripts and on adding some life into the scenes (doodads, trees, some more terrain painting,…). Then,  it will be time to port the Excel Flow/Pressure model into the engine.

Rig and part of the test setup

Wizard pressure controller on the Separator. Anything in Red/Orange can be set, and all gauges will display “real” (well, simulated!) values

Fisher Level-Trol on separator

I hope to be posting videos, and the partial application itself soon, but let me know what you think so far.

Interactive storytelling has been a buzzword in many conferences on gaming lately, and we are to thank Chris Crawford for that. Unfortunately, despite some claims of developers of getting closer to that holy grail of interactivity, any effort in the right direction has been negligible, in part due to the vague definition of what the term “interactive storytelling” encapsulates. For example, it is obvious that there cannot be a story without “agents making intelligent choices”, i.e. if all our agents would make random decisions on their next actions, stories will not develop. On the other hand, how “intelligent” do our story characters really need to be? This is where opinions start to diverge greatly, and the answer really depends on the type of game wherein interactive storytelling is to be embedded.

In this article I will try to offer my view of what interactive storytelling is, how it ties into the modeling of human-like AI agents and discuss the three main approaches to human behavior modeling that are being researched these days.

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Thanks to all the people who left comments and emailed me personally on the wellsite simulator. I promised a new project, and this might be a good time to give you some first details. We finally got settled, after a long and bumpy relocation to Montreal. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten my PC from Oslo yet, so I haven’t been able to do any serious work on my new project: a 3D Welltest Simulator in the past couple of months. Nevertheless, here is a low-down on the status of the project so far.

a)      Most of the models are set up, and they are rather detailed as you will see in the sample screenshots. The textures still need some work (hence not included in the screenshots), but the UV mapping is almost done. The one thing I am missing is a good reference image for the BOP control panel, so if anyone out there has a good image/blueprint sheet, I would greatly appreciate it if you could help out. And,… in case you were wondering…yes, you will be able to control the BOP, ESD, Air compressors to the burners, Oil/water pumps, separator pressure and liquid level controllers, all the valves, etc. and all the controls will all affect the simulations in a physically semi-correct manner.

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I finally managed to put the oil well operator program up for download. I decided to leave out a few features I added, and make an early “lite” version available for download to all of you. The program, as it is, is easy to use (if you know how to operate a well that is ;) ), and I’d love to hear your comments and criticism. The software, is neither the complete version, nor has been upgraded to a new graphics engine in a long time, and the little bit of sound in there is horrible (I am sorry for that, but I really didn’t have access to voice actors/studios). For installation instructions, please read on…

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Here is a gallery of photos I took of Fossils and taxidermied animals in the Nature & History Museum in Vienna. If you find them useful, please drop a comment and let me know what you think. If you want to use them in their current format, please link to or reference this website.


Creatures and Fossils


Over the years I have taken a lot of photos that might be useful as inspiration or for textures for game developers. Over the next few months, I am planning to put all of them up on the site. Here is a gallery of photos I took in the Nature/History Museum in Vienna a few years ago. If you find them useful, please drop a comment and let me know what you think. If you want to use them in their current format, please link to or reference this website.


Minerals, Rocks  & Gems



I’ve been tempted to write-up a small Genetic Algorithm tutorial for some time now, but the concepts involved, and even the coding is so simple and intuitive, and there are so many good guides out there that it simply didn’t make sense to repeat what others have said so well. So what I decided to do, was to solve a simple problem with a GA, in a format that doesn’t require you to fire up your development environments, but allows you to have a close look at the code itself. Excel and VBA are a perfect combination for this purpose.

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Some time ago I gathered all of David Freeman’s techniques from the excellent book Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering in a single excel sheet. Most of the techniques in the book are aimed at creating and guiding the emotions of players, and deepening the narrative experience of games. The book is a must-read for any game designer and writer, and the following list, though useful, does not do the beautiful samples of writing and illustration of the book justice. Nevertheless, I believe the list will give you a handy reference to check against your own stories and dialog.

The list covers all 100 or so techniques from the book, ordered by the technical classification mentioned in the book, and by technique. Because some of the method names might be a bit vague, I have included explanations and samples in the explanation field. Each technique, thus, spans one row in the table.

If this list has piqued your interest you can visit the book’s website or buy the book from Amazon.

The list is available for download in Excel 2003 XLS and Acrobat PDF formats.

Knowledge Distilled from the book “Creating Emotion in Games” by David Freeman
Emotioneering Worksheet
Index Technique Classification Technique Explanation
1 NPC Interesting Techniques Create an interesting Character Diamond For all Major NPCs. At least four Character traits for each major NPC. Attributes should be different and new. All the NPC says or does should be in accordance with his Diamond. Traits should not be opposing or too similar. One or two character quirks add to naturalness.
2 Create At least two Character Traits for minor NPCs. These two traits should be interesting and novel. No cliché characters.
3 NPC Deepening Techniques Emotional Pain When the NPC has repressed or obvious emotional pain, he/she has depth.
4 Regret Regret over a previous mistake that had terrible effects can give depth to an NPC.
5 Hiding a big Secret Having a big secret that is scarcely referred to and hidden be an NPC, when shared only with the player, or found out by him gives Depth to the NPC.
6 Hiding Emotions An NPC that is trying to cover a strong emotion by another, when found out by the player can gain immense depth. (e.g. hiding fear with Sarcasm, Love with unnecessary toughness, etc.)
7 NPC Emotions affect gameplay Making the NPC’s emotions affect gameplay and vice versa helps deepen the character of the NPC.
8 Dialog Interesting Techniques Add color to the dialog “Color” does not prompt the player into any action, but it gives a sense of character and drama to the speaker. Ideally this would match his character diamond.
9 Dialog prompting action Dialog should not only prompt the player into a single specific action, but it should further the listener’s awareness and information of the speaker, the situation, and the history of the game world.
10 Splitting Information The player needs to talk to more than one NPC to get the required information. This should be done in a way so as not to confuse the player.
11 Withheld Information There should be some NPC’s that simply don’t give the player the information he needs at that moment. Maybe they don’t know? Maybe they have their own secret agenda relating to that information?
12 Dialog Deepening Techniques Speaker having deep feelings Worries for the situation of other NPC’s or the player, Deep regret over having made a mistake, Self-sacrifice, Love and Wisdom or deep insight into some matter, all qualify for such Deep emotions.
13 Hint at Emotions beneath the surface In this type of dialog the NPC does not tell you his/her direct emotion, but hides it beneath a different wording. (E.g. an NPC loves you and wants to marry you. When you come back from a battle She acts cold and tell you: “I didn’t aspire to be a widow!” Another example would be hiding anger by being cold.
14 Ambivalence The NPC is first negative in his/her dialog and doesn’t seem to care about the player/other NPC’s. But then the same NPC might join the cause. Or will he?
15 Group/Culture Interesting Techniques Group Diamond Any group of people/beings that is encountered a lot in the game needs and interesting cultural diamond (E.g. All Klingons love music, heroism and battle, show passionate attraction for the opposite sex and deeply believe in afterlife.)
16 Group Diamond affects Gameplay All Group/Culture traits and quirks should have at least some effect of the group’s behaviors in gameplay context (E.g. the Klingons would attack their sworn enemies at first sight, and probably without thinking about the outcome.)
17 NPC’s Don’t greatly violate their Group Diamond NPC’s, except for good reasons, should not violate the traits and quirks of the group or culture that they belong to.
18 Avoid Cliché Group Diamonds Nasty, evil, flesh eating, throat-chewing, battle-loving aliens are no more!
19 Group/Culture Deepening Techniques Give the Group Deep Attributes Traits such as an Aesthetic culture, having ancient Wisdom, Carrying Mysterious knowledge of Nature and Creation, Being Noble, etc. add a lot of depth to a culture.
20 Inter-Group Relations A weird and mysterious relationship among groups can also add depth to both (e.g. If one Group of huge aliens protect another race for a reason that nobody knows!)
21 NPC towards NPC Chemistry Techniques Two NPC’s Think the same way When two or more NPC’s think the same way and complement each others thoughts and dialogs, a sense of prior history is created between them. This creates chemistry between the NPC’s.
22 Two NPC’s have an ongoing Argument If two or more NPC’s have an ongoing argument about past events or current tastes, it also adds to their history and gives a sense of chemistry. This also creates a feeling of affection between the NPC’s, because it shows they haven’t left each other despite their argument and disagreement.
23 NPC’s talking warmly about each other when the other NPC is absent. If one NPC talks affectionately about the other NPC, when the other is not present, the player gets a feeling of depth about their relationship.
24 Keep the Emotions between NPC’s Vague and Complex. One NPC telling the player that she loves another NPC is not a good idea to show their chemistry. It will not give the player the sense of “realness” that a few vague references would.
25 NPC1 can read NPC2′s Hidden Feelings If one NPC can read the feelings of another, while the player really can’t, it will seem as if those two NPC’s have a shared history, prior to the player’s entry into the game. This will add to a sense of chemistry between them.
26 NPC’s have Shared Bits A Shared Bit is a funny piece of recurrent dialog between two NPC’s. (e.g. NPC1: “You are trying to get me killed again!”, NPC2:”You keep telling me that, and look you are still alive!”
27 NPC towards NPC Relationship Deepening Techniques Multi-Layered Feeling between NPC’s This means that one NPC doesn’t only need to have one feeling for the other. Instead of an NPC simply loving the other, there might be other layers beneath that that might show in a single dialog (e.g. a Lover also feels protective, sometimes annoyed, and even sometimes jealous towards a loved one)
28 Avoid Cliché Feeling Layers (Emotional Cakes) If Emotional Cakes are created according to cliches (Critical Father<->Delinquent Son) the player will immediately recognize this. The emotional cakes need to be fresh, and interesting (Varied feelings in different layers)
29 NPC Character Arc Techniques Character Arcs don’t come easily to an NPC The NPC will need to struggle a lot along a rocky path, going through emotional, physical and mental delusions, distress, enlightening and change in order to “Travel his Character Arc”. This must be shared with the player, therefore if an NPC does not appear regularly to the player, giving it an arc will look stupid!
30 One Arc is more than enough There is very little space and time in a game to give any single NPC more that one character arc (e.g. Timid-> Brave, Material -> Spiritual, etc.). More than this might confuse the player to as who the NPC is and why he is changing so often.
31 Character Growth Comes in increments Traveling an arc and growing to be a different (hopefully better!) NPC has to be done in distinct steps that the player can understand and relate to.
32 Good Events can also change characters A Character Arc doesn’t necessary have to be filled with only pain and suffering. Sometimes, learning a new useful skill could help the NPC change for the better
33 Discarding Masks is a good Arc Some NPC’s might be using masks to hide their true nature or feelings from the player. If the NPC can travel his/her arc behind this mask, then drop it when he has grown, the player will be impressed by that character’s change.
34 Imply a successful arc, don’t overstate it! an NPC shouldn’t just state that he has changed. It should be apparent through his actions and dialog instead, and the player should find out that the change has occurred on his own.
35 Character arcs can fail some character arcs can fail and end in a worse, or “lost” character. This adds to the emotional depth of the game.
36 NPC Rooting Interest Techniques Who is Interesting to you! Use his diamond! If you can find a real human or a story character that you really feel empathy with and that people can relate to, use their character diamonds on NPC’s.
37 Too much Uniqueness can cause engagement rupture! If a character diamond, along with its quirks is so unique that the player cannot identify with it (e.g. a mother character that is evil and jealous and burps all the time!) the player will loose interest in him/her.
38 Put the NPC in Danger Putting an NPC in danger will make the player want to protect him/her, especially if the character acts emotionally dependant on the player. This will root the player’s interest in that NPC.
39 Let the NPC make a big sacrifice An NPC that is making big sacrifices, or even sacrificing their lives for the player or other NPC’s will definitely root the interest of the player in him/herself.
40 Put the NPC in Undeserved Misfortune Players feel emphatic with NPC’s that have gotten into great undeserved misfortune.
41 Learn about an NPC’s Painful Past Telling the player about an NPC’s painful past, or the player finding out himself about that past, can root the player’s interest in an NPC.
42 Make the NPC Exceptionally Brave An NPC might save the player or other NPC by exceptional Bravery. Similar to self-sacrifice, this will create a rooting interest towards that NPC.
43 Let the player invest into an NPC. An NPC that the player has invested a lot in, creates a rooting interest. E.g. if the player has been giving an NPC lots of attention and gifts to get him on his side, the player will have a strong emotional bond towards that NPC.
44 Make the Player Responsible for an NPC. Characters that the player is responsible for (protecting them, killing them, guiding them, etc.) immediately have more rooting interest than others, especially if they are sympathetic to the player.
45 Flip Rooting Techniques to get “Hating Techniques” If a Rooting technique is reversed (e.g. instead of an NPC showing braver, showing fear and running from battle) the players emotions can be manipulated to hate that character (note that this is different from a player’s indifference towards an NPC). This allows us to tune the player’s emotions towards NPC’s quite early in the game.
46 Player Towards NPC Chemistry Techniques NPC Admires Player when an NPC admires a player, especially in a subtle way, the player feels an emotional bond towards that NPC which makes the NPC very interesting to the player.
47 NPC reads Player’s mind! Every NPC’s dialog can be tuned, so her or she “knows” about past events that the player caused. This will allow the NPC to know the history of the player. When this history is referred to by any NPC, it makes that NPC seem to have a common past with the player. This makes the NPC immensely interesting to the player.
48 The NPC has things in common with the Player If the Player finds out that the NPC has had a past that resembles the current path that the player is taking in the game-world, especially if they both had similar problems, the player will have chemistry with that player.
49 The NPC Anticipates the Player’s Needs and Desires Let’s say the player is out of ammo and is facing a tough boss. If an accompanying NPC tosses him some ammo at that point, the player will feel a bond with that NPC.
50 An NPC helps the player on his Character Arc If an NPC helps the player take a step forward on his character arc, and provides him with opportunities to grow, the player will feel some chemistry with the NPC.
51 NPC Towards Player Relationship Deepening Techniques Layer Cakes If the NPC has different layers of emotions towards the player (one layer of emotion over the other) the relationship between them will feel deeper.
52 An NPC Causes the player both Harm AND Good If an NPC can cause the player both harm and good in various stages of the game the player will have an emotionally-complex feeling towards the NPC. This will deepen their relationship. Another example would be if the player had to protect a villain who attacked him before during the game.
53 Player Towards NPC Relationship Deepening Techniques The player has mixed feelings for an NPC If you make an NPC act in a way to create mixed feelings in the player (e.g. Help him, make him jealous, hurt him, and then save him from greater misfortune) the player will feel various things for this NPC. This will create a deep and complex relationship between the two.
54 Group Bonding Techniques Shared Appearance When a group of NPC’s and the player share some elements of appearance (I.e. they look alike) Group bonding is stronger.
55 Shared Goals Shared Goals can make a Player/NPC group feel stronger bonds.
56 Shared Rituals Shared Rituals can make a Player/NPC group feel stronger bonds. Obviously the player will be “motivated” to take part in these rituals.
57 Shared Ordeals and Adventures Shared Ordeals can make a Player/NPC group feel stronger bonds.
58 Taking Heroic Action to Protect Other Group Members When NPC’s or the player sacrifice themselves to protect a group, strong inter-group bonds are created.
59 Complementary Skills If among a group of NPC’s and/or players, skills available to each member, complement those available to other players, a necessary dependency and bond is created between them.
60 Members of a Group Saying good things behind each other’s backs, even if they don’t to their Faces Teasing or apparent antagonism between group members, when combined with good words that members say behind each other’s backs, creates an atmosphere of trust between members, and makes the player feel a strong bond in the group.
61 Shared References Allusions to experiences (in gameplay) that the player and a group of NPC’s have gone through can be a positive group bonding factor.
62 Emotionally Complex Situations Techniques Player is forced to do Evil Forcing the player to do Evil (e.g. in order to prevent even greater evil, or in order to be able to do good subsequently) puts him/her in an emotionally complex situation. Doing Evil can be hurting good people, helping bad people, betraying a friend or group, joining up with evil forces, destroying something that belongs to the good, creating something that can cause potential evil, etc.
63 Forcing the player to care about, or see the world through the eyes of an NPC they are ambivalent about If a player is forced to defend or help an NPC that they are highly ambivalent about, or slightly dislike (e.g. by use of NPC negative rooting techniques) they will find themselves in an emotionally complex situation. Now if the player is forced to see the world through taat character’s eyes (e.g. playing/controlling that character for some time) it will create further complexity.
64 Ambivalence towards a previous friend Finding out that a friend was actually following their own agenda in helping the player creates ambivalence and a complex emotion.
65 Ambivalence towards a previous Enemy Finding out that someone who was an enemy, had to do what they did to the player creates emotional complexity, because whereas the player hated that enemy before, now he/she is forced to consider their position. The same thing might happen if the player finds out that his enemy has had a painful past, or is dying a terrible death, is helpless, or can actually cause great good at some points in the story.
66 The Player finding out that he/she has been tricked or used If the player finds out that he has been tricked or used by evil forces to do evil, or by good forces to do good, he will have an emotionally complex feeling towards those forces. The same holds true, if he thought he was doing the “right” thing all along, and suddenly found out it had terrible results, or vice versa. In a Weird way, even if some NPC tricks the player into doing good the player will feel an emotional complexity.
67 The player is helpless in aiding someone he loves If the player finds out that someone he has an interest for is in grave danger or in trouble, and is helpless in aiding her, he will find himself in a complex emotional situation.
68 Good and Evil are not White and Black A Clash of interests between two factions in the game world could be used to put the player on the side of one faction (maybe because they are more pretty, cuter, more helpless or weaker.) causing the player to realize later on that helping that faction wasn’t necessarily helping the good, but rather just serving one cause and harming another equally valid one will create mixed feelings in them.
69 Forcing the Player to Violate their own integrity. for example, at one point in the game the player might absolutely need to get help from an NPC that has previously killed many of his friends, and whom he hates.
70 Incongruity E.g. a beautiful NPC you have learned to like, tells you the worst things about your mother! Or a beautiful meadow which has been the scene of a previous battle where your parents died!
71 Plot Interesting Techniques Plot Twists Adding plot twists, when all the plans and prior ideas of the player are reversed is the best way to keep a plot interesting. Use as many plot twists as you can, but remember that a story must be very rich and engaging emotionally if the player is not to feel fooled and cheated by your twists.
72 Structure Twists E.g. If a player thinks that your game has a totally linear structure, but then finds out that it branches into nonlinearity at some point.
73 Plot Deepening Techniques Two Key Characters Change Place If two of the NPC’s take over each other’s character arcs at one point in the story and achieve what the other leaves behind the plot is considerably deepened.
74 The Story makes Spiritual Forces Palpable Spirituality and spiritual forces made visual and active, be it in the game world or the player and NPC’s add to the plot’s depth.
75 A Character we Like Dies A key Sympathetic NPC’s death can always leave the player in doubt and wondering about the rest of the plot.
76 A Bittersweet Ending If a Major Character , or the player achieve their Character arc, but not the goal set for them in the game (I.e. the material goal) or vice versa the ending is bittersweet, more so in the second case.
77 An Uncertain Ending Open endings that leave the player speculate (but not too wildly) on how the plot really ended add to the thrill of a game.
78 A Downside to Victory If a victory in the game is accompanied by a painful downside (e.g. opening a hole in a dam to save the upstream city from flooding, but being informed that a loved one was killed downstream!) has more plot depth than a simple victory. However, the victory should always be greater than the downside, otherwise the player will feel unnecessarily punished.
79 Player Character Arc Techniques Reward a Player if he Travels his Character Arc Rewards can include help or admiration from “interesting” NPC’s, power-ups, or simply a richer gameplay experience.
80 Punish a Character if he does NOT Travel his Character Arc Punishments can be being isolated in the game, loosing allies and friends, tougher enemies, being blocked off from some areas, or a less-fun game experience.
81 Create Guides and Helps to show the Player what the intended Character Arc is The game world and NPC’s should provide the player with hints towards what he should change in himself. E.g. killing innocent people should be punished in gameplay if the Character arc is changing from a selfish person to a protective guardian.
82 Use Emotioneering Techniques to Make sure the player cares about his Character Arc. The player should really care about the game world, and his and other characters if he wants to be made to change his character actively to suit that of the game world.
83 Shun the inherent Character arc: Weak -> Strong The Weak -> Strong character arc is inherently present in all game rules. Using this same arc just adds boredom, and takes away the possible gameplay richness that could be added by a fresh and unique character arc.
84 Don’t Start the Arc by alienating the Player (I.e. Total Looser -> Winner) If a character arc starts from a timid and shy person, and you show the player as being very timid it might shy off those players who do not find this shortcoming in themselves. A better way would be to go from a socially acceptable “Good” to a heroic “Perfect” in your arc. when reaching Perfection, however the Good that was left behind should look distant enough and the “Perfect” should look valuable enough.
85 Player Character Deepening Techniques Emotional/Moral Difficult Decisions Every branching along the path or the storyline should leave the player with an emotionally or morally challenging decision to make (E.g. Will he help the beautiful and honorable space-race that is being invaded by humans, or should he serve his own race that has provided him with love and care up to know?)
86 Conflicting Viewpoints If the player can see himself as a magician, dealing with immense spiritual powers that could create worlds in an eyeblink, but at the same time spend some of his time protecting a little girl from her abusive father, who is being controlled by some lesser demon of anger, he will have the chance to see the world through two viewpoints. The same applies if the gameplay allows the player to instantly change from a good magician into a powerful demon who is strong but feared and shunned by all.
87 Enhancing Character Depth Use of Visual or Verbal Symbols A Greedy character can be symbolized by a rat. The player could see rats hanging around him whenever he gets too greedy in the game and leaves the path of good and self-sacrifice. Similarly the Homa (Mythological bird that announces spiritual power and right to rulership, or simply good luck) could fly over the player’s head whenever the player achieves a major victory towards the game’s goals. Similarly Dark clouds passing overhead could mean bad fortune for the player or NPC’s.
88 Show the Character Diamond through Character Actions and Imagery Try to avoid overt use of dialog to show the character traits. Atleast half of any character’s traits should be visible in their appearance and actions.
89 Use Subplots as Symbols of the main Player character arc Small sub-plots can symbolize what the player or other NPC’s are trying to achieve by traveling on their character arc.
90 Gameplay Motivation Techniques Don’t Interrupt the gameplay The game story should merge into the natural flow of the gameplay. Do not take away control from the player in order to present information or story plots to him/her.
91 Don’t hold back too long on the Carrots The player needs some sense of achievement early in the game. Later on when he/she is hooked and emotionally involved he will be able to take more beating until the next big prize.
92 Repetetive Gameplay should be fun Don’t make gameplay too repetetive. On the other hand, do not change gameplay drastically, once the player has accumulated a lot of experience in it and direly needs this experience to advance in the game.
93 Keep the plot twists coming Plot twists, and some unexpected results to the player’s actions keep the game interesting. Don’t start throwing in random effects too often though as it will confuse the player.
94 Use Action puzzles Action puzzles use the available game mechanics to create a puzzle that the player has to solve by actively doing something in the game (e.g. fighting in a special pattern, with a sequence of spells that naturally unleashes another strong spell effect useful to the gameplay.
95 Create a Mysterious World that takes some Time to Sort out This is self-explanatory.
96 Cohesiveness Techniques The Player Character Gets a Reputation If the player character’s actions in one part of the world, are remembered and refered to in another part, the player will feel he has a reputation and the world is cohesive.
97 The Player carries Karma If the actions of the player in one part of the world affect the behaviour of NPC’s towards him all over the world, The player feels as if he lives in a cohesive world.
98 NPC’s in various places refer to each other If NPC’s in different parts of the world seem to know each other, or at least have heard of each other the playe rwill feel like living in a cohesive world.
99 A Game has to have a Theme If the Theme e.g. is “Power” it needs to be studied from various viewpoints in the game and in all places. Some final conclusion might be reached about this theme, or not, but atleast it has to be present in all parts of the game.
100 Abilities Learned are useful a lot later If an ability learned in one part of the world is useful at a later stage in another the world will have cohesiveness.
101 Remind the Player of the Stakes The player has to be reminded in different ways and in various places and times of the importance of achieving the goal he has set out for.

Author: Penny Sweetser

Publisher: Charles River Media

ISBN 10: 1-58450551-6

Companion Site:

My Rating: 6/10 (Interesting)

Summary: This book is a compendium of information on methods of increasing interactivity in your games, and even though it does not deliver on the promise of developing methodologies to design for emergence in games or offer analyses of complex dynamic game systems, it does a good job of introducing the reader to the field, especially if you are willing to read all the reference material introduced in the book.


Emergence and complexity in game systems are my main research interest, so when i got my hands on this book, I was overjoyed by the prospect of reading up on innovative methods to design for emergence, and gauge the types and extent of emergent behaviors based on design templates. I picked up a hot tea, and sat down, expecting to find original ideas and a gain deep understanding of complexity in games. As always, I jotted down notes about my experience with the book, as I read on. This review is a summary of those notes.

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Who is more intelligent? Who is more Human-like? Who would you date?

Whenever I watch Starwars movies, I have this nagging feeling that R2D2 might just be more intelligent that C3PO, a fact that few others seem to agree with! The way I see it, it is R2D2 who normally gets everyone out of trouble, and it is him who provides the more practical solutions to most problem. Why then is it that we are encouraged to think of C3PO as the more intelligent robot? Is it merely his exterior humanoid shell, as opposed to the embryonic egg-like shape of his beeping brother? Or is it the fact that he makes such a show of his emotions all the time? And what is “intelligence” anyways? Do C3PO’s angst attacks qualify as intelligence?

O….K! I almost opened a can of worms there, but I do want to make a point- that problem solving and adapting to new situations (R2D2) are probably a big part of any definition of intelligence…while depression and angst (C3PO), while indicative of some sort of internal world-view simulation, don’t necessarily constitute intelligent behavior. Despite this fact, I argue that creating a semblance of the latter in your NPCs, i.e. simulating a C3PO-like behavior, makes for a more believable AI than does simulating R2D2-like AI.

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Immersive Gaming

These days “immersion” seems to be the big buzz-word for marketing departments. Marketing, being hype driven as it is, tends to stick that “immersive gameplay” label on every single game retail box, console and demo video they release. On a deeper level, everyone in game development seems to agree that “immersion” is an important achievement, if not the ultimate goal of playing games: immersion makes players feel passionately about a game and crave for more of the same.

Unfortunately, many game designers have failed to analyze the constituents of immersion, and have treated the concept as if it were magical – impervious to analysis! In this article, I will try to explore what immersive gameplay is, and how the state of immersion can be created.

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I finally had some time to play some of the “weirder” games out there-and I must say I found a favorite: Dwarf Fortress!  It is hard to believe that an ASCII-based simulation can offer so much depth in gameplay. If I was to pick only one factor that distinguishes DF from other games (besides the obvious “geek appeal” its MS-DOS style interface creates) it would have to be the emergent, very complex interactions that the dwarves have with each other and their  environment. In this article I will discuss the concepts of complexity and emergence citing DF and other games as examples…

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Sooooo…What does “Avatar” have to do with what I would like to call “the perfect game” and what is “Limbo”?

Well,…just as the avatar machine technology allows Jake Sully to delve into an alternate reality, where he is stronger and faster, and able to walk, and experience a “new” world, to the point where it changes him, the perfect video game could, and should change how you see the world by allowing you to experience the results (long- and short-term) of your actions, and by enabling you to show, and share your emotions with other inhabitants of the “game world”, which I will call “Limbo”. In this article, I have tried to describe how such an alternate world should look and feel like, and how it can be realized without “avatar-level” technologies!

(There is of course another reason for using this image from the movie on this article: I just recently saw the movie, and it blew me away – there is just so much of what I’d love to see in persistent worlds in the “actual world” of the avatars!)

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In part one of this series, “Defining Emergence and Complexity in Video Games”, I tried to define the concepts of complex systems and emergent behavior and how they apply to video games. I also tried to convince you that “emergence” is a good thing in games, and that it is worthwhile to consider designing your games so that there is a chance of “benevolent” emergence to appear. Now it’s time to introduce a number of techniques to assess the possibility and maximize the potential of emergence.

In this article, I will borrow concepts from the field of cellular automata and by studying the correspondence between CAs and video games, I am hoping to draw on the accumulated knowledge about CAs and apply it to the less formalized field of computer game design. The reason why I chose CAs as the source of comparison is the fact that they are probably the simplest constructs capable of clearly displaying emergent behavior (besides some sets of differential equations, but those are not as intuitive).

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Major publishers and developers keep churning out game after game, without any innovation in gameplay or content, and, though we gamers keep paying them our hard-earned cash, we keep wondering how many innovative and revolutionary ideas had to be sacrificed on the altar of the so-called “market-oriented design”. There must have been a large number of lost chances for change over the past two decades, or else computer games would be the driving force of many economies, we think- and we would probably be right. So why don’t the big boys in the industry get the point? Why don’t they give us revolutionary games as they did in the past?

In this series of articles I will discuss the reasons for the lack of creativity in design in the game industry from a developer’s point of view.

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Mass Effect 2 Moral Choice Dialogue

There’s been a lot of talk about Morality in games, and the argument boils down to two basic schools: One group think that developing a sense of morals is the ultimate goal of games, and even all arts, while the other group (and sadly, that’s the majority of developers) believe that morality is better left to other media, or maybe even best kept at a personal level, while creating “fun” should be the holy grail of games. I think I gave away my point of view right there: I believe that a great game will and should make the player a better person. In this article I will talk about the factors that have so far kept us from creating a coherent and deeply engaging morality system, and how we might be able to do better.

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Back in 2005, I quit my job as a well-test engineer in order to start making games, my only passion, besides AI. At some point, a programmer friend and I created a prototype of a fully interactive training environment for oilfield operators. With my knowledge of oilfield equipment and operations, and his knowledge of 3D engine programming, it seemed the right thing to do.

The goal of the wellsite-simulator project was to explore the possibility of training oilfield operators on the on well control equipment and safety. This type of training environment can potentially be turned into a commercial success, especially nowadays that realistic graphic engines are available. Back in those days our graphics were quite basic, but hey, even some artists at our company could probably have operated well-site equipment after playing around with the simulator. And to me that’s good news!

[ Update: The Oil Well operator Simulation software is available for download now! ]

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Book Title: “A Theory of Fun for Game design”

Author: Raph Koster


Publisher: Paraglyph Press

ISBN 10: 1-932111-97-2

ISBN 13: 9781932111972

Companion Site:

My Rating: 8/10 (Must Read!)

Summary: In “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” Raph Koster, veteran game designer and developer, discusses game design issues in understandable terms, accompanied by funny cartoons. The book is highly informative and chock-full of innovative insights into the “fun” factor of games, a joy to read, and it is sprinkled over with Raph’s humor, anecdotes, and delightful insights.

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Author: Mat Buckland ( )

Publisher: Premier Press

ISBN 10: 1-931841-08-X

Companion Site: N/A

My Rating: 4/10 (Can be skipped!)

Summary: “AI Techniques for Game Programmers” reads like a book for high school students, and though it tries, it barely manages to touch on real-world game applications of the soft-computing methods it introduces to the reader.

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