Emotions in Games

Computer game developers, almost to a one, are blind to the emotional resonance of their games, but they don’t think they are. Quintessentially, they’ll talk about fun as an emotion and focus on that. They’ll talk about other emotions that they want to create, in particular: love and hate. The near universal conceit is that those sorts of emotions are hard, especially in single player games, so don’t even try.

They are blind to the emotional resonance that they do create, because they don’t think it can be done.

As an example, let’s consider an indie game called Card Crawl. It’s got wonderful art, music, sound, and gameplay. It’s the whole package, both in my estimation and that of VideoGameGeek

That’s a typical gameplay situation, sans the wonderfully subtle animations and music score. Quick run-through on the game follows. You’re the hapless adventurer in the bottom row of cards. Your sword and shield which can do, and block, 5 points respectively. You’ve managed to collected 14 loot points so far. It’s early yet with 44 cards to go, but you’re pretty beat up, and your skull is showing through…
To play, you drag cards around. In this case, I’m going to use my sword to slash the Troll, then drag him onto my shield. That’ll use up my sword, and leave me with a one point shield, and only 4 health. So, without healing, the spider would kill me. (For a moment, as I wrote this, I wondered if the adventurer was actually my younger daughter experiencing her worst fear.) Luckily there’s a Leech spell on the board which will heal me right up, based on the damage that I’ve taken at that point. One of the real fun parts of this game is the significant variety of blue spell cards and how they interact with the cards in play.

Oh, and of course there’s some LOOT on the board in the form of the coin, so into my backpack that goes… A victory will allow me to use the loot I’ve collect to acquire new blue cards.

So far, great. Really great. It’s a happy fun romp through cards with the whole Sir George and the Dragon sort of feel to it.

Until it isn’t.


I  just used my last healing potion. I’ve pulled all of the cards out, and here I am at the end of the game.

“How do you end the game?” you ask.

“How do you loose the game?” is what you should be asking.

I’m of the school that there’s winning and learning. How you “not-win” is central to what are we going to learn. In this sort of game, you really don’t know what’s going to come next card-wise, because randomness plays a huge factor. That’s the central learning of this sort of game, otherwise stated as sometimes bad things happen to good people. An interesting lesson, and necessary, as without it, nothing good could happen to good people either.

It’s how you loose the game which is of issue.

I pulled the Slime onto my shield, which softened his blow by 2 and took three damage, so down to 7 health. The only recourse I have available is to drag the Souleater onto me and die. The only thing I can do is to feed myself to the Souleater. I get to kill myself with a Souleater. Killing one’s self is the only path to more.

I killed myself with a Souleater.

The only path forward is to commit suicide.

That lesson not OK with me.



Game Center UI and Ratings

Ran across a positive story about Cloud Breaker‘s custom Game Center UI. Sadly, few developers take the time to do this.

Here’s what I wrote in response:

Two reasons come to mind as to why most developers don’t do this:

  1. Doing the Game Center integration, with Apple’s UI, is less work. That approach “wins” when money is tight. Many games are developed on the rockbottom development budgets, so this sort of additional feature is hard to justify especially given the potential trade for additional actual game content. Leaderboards, achievements, etc. are typically (and incorrectly) viewed as outside of core gameplay.
  2. There’s no direct API to “rate” an app, but you can on Apple’s provided Game Center UI. In an App Store where ratings (and to a lessor extent Facebook Likes) are currency of enormous value. Anything that may potentially reduce the likelihood of getting even a single rating is not viewed… favorably.

Until the second issue changes, the first argument won’t even happen because, in most cases, it’d be pointless. The elegance will come once the iOS SDK has the APIs, and only for the most resourced teams (initially.)

Bonus issue: This isn’t that easy to do. Look at your screenshot – there’s at least one critical bug (overlapping text in two places) and, IMO, there needs to be a blur layer or something to make the text more legible because there’s not enough contrast between it and the clouds.

Revenge of the -Ly Song

The App Store is killing me right now.

Apple and Google both stopped accepting “Flappy” apps, because it was getting ridiculous. (And for Google to do that – you know that means truly insane.)

The response?

To the Thesarusomobile!

Splashy! Trashy! OMG – LOOK AT ALL OF THE WORDS THAT END IN -LY! Three words is completely different than two! They can’t ban us now!

There’s even a song!



They’re going to need to ban just about every adjective in the English language by the time they’re done…

Great Software, talk by Joel Spolsky

An oldie from 2006:

“The Formula:

  • Make People Happy
  • Think About Emotions
  • Obsess over Aesthetics

Or: Happy Comfortable, People” – Joel Spolsky

His core point, just at the end, got cut-off by bad audio, so I’ll take a crack at it.

Misattribution. Namely the act of feeling or desiring something for reasons other than the ones you believe are causing you to feel this way.

For the purposes of software, if your program basically works, nailing making people happy (by giving them a sense of control), making people comfortable and by making things beautiful, your app will be perceived as great – even if there are other apps which have more features.

I’ve seen this in real life directly. People like our app, even though there are other apps which have more features, because they like how it feels. They like how it uses words that they know. They like how it looks.

You’d be amazed how much of a push getting these things right is.

You’ll be amazed how damn much work it is.

Snake App Thoughts

Snake for iOS7

I had hopes for this app. It’s beautiful. Has a reasonable monetization strategy. Good gameplay which interacts well with the elegant design.

Fell down for me on two counts:

1) Too many gates to even get to basic gameplay. Why do I need to hook up with friends to wiggle a snake around the screen?

There’s a chicken and egg problem here. I’m not going to want to tell my friends about this app until I’ve had a chance to try it.

2) Controls. Here’s the thing. Snake is a game which requires snap turning. Doing one block swipes just doesn’t work on the screen. You hands block to much of the screen and just can’t move fast enough, even on the slowest setting, to be playable.


Wanted to like this one.

Surprised that Apple so widely featured it.

Help Me Fly App Thoughts

I really had a problem with this game right at second zero.

Here’s the backstory: there’s a crashed toy plane and you need to build circuits between it and a nearby battery.

Here’s the problem: you never get to fly the plane. It just swirls around the screen – the same way every time.

Mismatch between expectation and reality => immediate uninstall.

I just didn’t care enough to spend more than 5 minutes with this app.

Stay Awhile and Listen How Two Blizzards Unleashed…

Stay Awhile and Listen: How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire – Book I

“Allen was a student of how retail worked. In fact, we all spent a lot of time thinking about how retail worked. One thing that was really obvious was that having a line of games on a shelf was really valuable because it would create more of a brand identity. If you walked up to a shelf and saw 10 of one kind of a game and one of another, you’d say, “Wow, there must be something to this game series if there’s 10 of them. They’ve got a lot of shelf space.””
Read more at location 3097

So the idea was to do a series of games called WarCraft that were about various times in history: a fantasy game, a Vietnam game, a World War II game, earlier historical periods, futuristic games.
Read more at location 3100

TL;DR: the power of the colon.

For anyone wondering how Blizzard is going to crack the mobile nut, this is how it’s going to be done. They have a huge player base that they can directly leverage into mobile and then cross-promote to.

This is just so obvious and utterly necessary. Yet Hearthstone doesn’t already do this. They must not want to tip their hand yet or some (probably tech) piece is missing. Those are the only explanations that make any sense.

There already is a Hearthstone clone. It took 20 days from development start to release. The *only* possible defense against that level of overt hostility, especially on Android outside of the US, is to have incentives above and beyond what’s in the game itself. MMO-Champion Link Chinese News Article

Mobile is rife with this crap. Mostly because the games by themselves must be so much smaller in scope that a typical high-end PC game (i.e. WoW, D3, CoD, etc.). Furthermore, the development toolchain is really good, especially for a mostly 2D game like Hearthstone.

“I think it’s a sobering experience when you realize that you’re responsible for the salaries of people who have wives, husbands, and kids. So we took it pretty seriously that we were going to make this company a good place to work and to make sure people got their paychecks and that it was a stable environment, economically. That wasn’t always easy. We were scraping by a lot. We bounced paychecks. – Max Schaefer”
Read more at location 2113

Nothing but the brutal Truth.