Posts tagged ‘video games’

Super Mario Galaxy

As someone who has taken an interest in game design, there were a few things I found interesting in Super Mario Galaxy. Mind, the last game I played was 64, so some of these may not be novel to this release.

The Constrained Path – A Return to Form

Many levels, especially the early ones have a very linear layout. Very often you are getting launched from tiny-planet to tiny-planet. There is often freedom of movement on each planet, but movement between them is limited by launch stars. This retreats a bit from the freedom of 3d and harkens back to the linear scrolling levels of the first games.

Levels of Scale

Flying between planets has an effect almost like levels-within-levels. The level structure has a quality of Levels of Scale – one of Christopher Alexander’s 15 properties of life. There is the largest structure of six worlds, each with 2 or 3 major worlds and a few extras. Each of the major worlds has about 6 stars available, which may (or may not) reuse the same basic level geometry. Within each level, there are very often multiple sub-challenges, if not physically separate planetoids.

Variation of Challenge

There are several different types of levels. Major classes include timed, freeform exploration, boss fights, auto-scrolling, ball-rolling, ray-surfing. One of the great wonders of the game is how many games are contained within it – whole mechanics that would have been sufficient for a single game in ages past now supply 3, 2, even just 1 level (red star comes to mind)

Goomba Management.

One intriguing feature is the players ability to get two different types of resources from goobmas, and probably other kinds of enemies. Spin/kick them an they turn into star bits, which serve several purposes, including adding to extra lives. Stomp them and get a coin, which replenishes your health (they can also add up to lives, but are lost every time you die, making it much harder to collect enough.)

(Ideas 2008-02-22, mostly written 2008-07-06)

Letter To Aspiring Game Designers

One of my relatives has a son interested in game design. Though I’m not much involved, I’ve watched it enough to be able to give something of an answer:

Unfortunately, the company doesn’t do many games anymore; those we have been done were coin-operated, and often redemption (tickets; chuck-e-cheese type stuff)

I presume by the involvement of software that you are referring to computer/video games. (I’ve also dabbled in board games, but very few people are able to make a career of it) I’ve watched the industry a bit at times, but never really been involved in it. What aspect is interested in? There is programming, art, sound, production, and even ‘design’ is specializing into story/writing and mechanics (possible called ‘game design’) Aiming smaller at the casual/web/downloadable market might be an environment were multiple talents would be more common. Things may have completely changed by the time he’s making a living on it, but that could be a place to start now.

There are a few game development schools – just don’t confuse development with design. Develop is the whole thing (programming/art/etc.) and very often their brand of ‘design’ is write up a design document and then a bunch of people go build that, whether or not it’s good. Mostly I speculate; I’ve no personal experience and they may have much brighter people than I give them credit for – just make sure they are offering what you want if looking in that direction.

Otherwise, the question of schools comes back to the area he is interested in. For true game design (which I should mention is a touch gig to get) liberal arts may actually be the best bet. See the book Rules of Play (below) for an idea of the breadth required.

I haven’t looked into tools lately. I ran across Squeak EToys recently; it’s designed as a first introduction to programming in an interactive environment. Beyond that, I’d recommend finding a game framework for a dynamic language such as Python or Ruby; I also believe there is a DarkBasic that is focused on games.

Resources: – web site tied in with a publish of game industry magazines and such (you could also subscribe to Game Developer magazine I suppose) News, articles on various topics in design, programming, and trends. – my game design bookmarks; some are related to board games or weird abstract things about the ‘meaning’ of games and suchlike.


A Theory of Fun (Raph Koster) – fairly light essay on fun; illustrated.

Rules of Play (Katie Salen/Eric ZImmerman) – a textbook of game design, but in a broad sense – includes board and playground games in addition to computer.

Patterns in Game Design (Staffan Bjork/Jussi Holopainen) – more focused on computer games, but a little dry and perhaps not the best starter book.

Chris Crawford has written a couple of books; I believe The Art of Computer Game Design is available for free online, along with a lot of other writings. Just be aware, with respect to breaking into ‘The Industry’, Chris checked out of it a while ago, and many of his writings refer to a bygone age.

NES now being used as enterprise data server

Yes, as in the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment system.

Page 3

I suppose we should chalk it up to the dangers of indiscriminate clip-art usage. ;^)

Human potential.

“[...]It would come to quickly represent every knowledge base, and every skill base you could imagine, plus, a virtually unlimited amount of time, energy, and resources. And we were right, but we were off by one order of magnitude. We had around three million people on the A.I. project, and about three million people on ilovebeess as well … Damn, there’s nothing they can’t solve, there is nothing they solve instantly.”

-Jordan Weisman, from an interview in Game Developer magazine, May 2005

Think about that. there’s nothing they can’t solve Could this method be applied to “real world” problems?

Actually, there are problems. The alternate reality games are kinds of puzzles – there is an answer, the answer is known, and there is some logical path of conclusions that leads from the information given to the result desired. I suspect you’d have to satisfy most of those properties for the method to achieve the same level of success.


A little dust to blow off there… ;^)

I’ve generally been doing well, but there hasn’t been much I felt like talking about. An overview.

I rode down to the waterfall today; It has been a long time (probably at least all winter) since I’ve been down there. Someone tore through with a chainsaw and seriously reduced the local forest. The first reaction of course was indignation; the place had a hidden quality, where you could kind of miss it, then walk over the bridge realize the waterfall is there. But I’ve also been reading Book 3 of The Nature of Order (which finally, after years on preorder, arrived a month or two ago.) So I had to stop and ask: Is the place better, or worse? To be fair I probably didn’t meditate on the place long enough, but it is possible that it has gotten better. The waterfall enhances the path, the path enhances the waterfall. The centers, formally separate, now can reinforce each other.

I’ve begun exploring USB peripherals, in consideration of my ailing computer. I have a new keyboard, USB flash drive for incremental backups, and and external CD writer for archiving the files I don’t touch much any more. With the data loss risk reduced, I’m much more comfortable using the computer until it dies. My BIOS locks up if something is plugged in on reset, but that is workable. Windows 98, despite the trouble I had with the haptic mouse, hooked everything up without a hitch. Linux has been rather a bit more trouble. ‘usbmgr’ had limited success; I had some success with the hotplug system, but the computer would lock up during shutdown, without unmounting the hard drive, so that got un=installed quickly. Plugging things in after BIOS but before the kernel seems to the best solution for now.

I repotted all my plants last week. The process of gathering all the pots, taking them downstairs, emptying and re-filling them, and then carrying the lot back upstairs made me realize just how many pots I have. Most of them are on one Pothos plant that I keep clipping and planting. Fed up with scrawny, leafless vines, I decided to try the bushy effect. I cut all the vines into sections of a couple of inches (filling two buckets) and stuck most of them into the fresh soil. I still have about half a bucket sitting in water, where they seem to be doing fairly well until I get more pots. It looks like on basil plant won’t make it (the don’t seem to like being replanted) The pineapples appear to want larger pots, and I stepped both of them up little.

I’ve been playing Banjo-Tooie (N64 game) lately. In a sense it is an evolution of the Mario 64 game play, with a lot of lock-and-key mechanics. One interesting thing is that most of the keys are alternate characters, each of which has various limitations. I seem to be settling into a pattern of playing an hour or two at night.

Perhaps that has something to do with the way I’ve been sleeping less. But with the onset of spring, and the reintroduction of soy milk into my diet, scientific conclusions are not forthcoming. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the extra hour every day. ;-)

For the moment most of that time is lost; I finally got talked into making a web site for my martial arts school. I’ve been playing around with some new CSS tricks. Mainly the use of margins to avoid floats, and menu bar highlights to show the current page.

Meanwhile, my savings account has built up, and I’m resolved to pursue getting a harp. There will still be some work figuring out details, and then there is finding a teacher somewhere.

Picking up

About a week ago I decided I should revisit my desire to do some thinking on a regular basis; the short burst of entries was the result. This was briefly interrupted by traveling out to Iowa for Mary’s New Year’s party. It was rather more seriously interrupted when I woke up in the wee hours of Sunday the 2nd with a vomiting illness.

At first I blamed some lunchmeat that was past it’s sell by date. Some doubt is cast on that theory by the fact that most of the other instructors in the martial arts school were sick as well. I don’t think it was the same illness though – from what I hear they all had it longer and harder than I did. Myself I was only throwing up for about six hours, leaving out one incident Sunday night that I’m certain was brought on by trying to drink something more substantial than water too soon. After laying down all of Sunday and doing tolerable well Sunday night, I was mostly functional Monday and improved from there, working my up the food scale from water to my normal diet as the week progressed.

The delay since then has been more a matter of general disruption and laziness than illness. Being slightly impaired from lost sleep, I also started trying to work my way through Perfect Dark (a video game) again, which has been a distraction all it’s own.

Perfect Dark is a first person shooter. Plot wise it started out reminding me of Deus Ex – special agents in a future world of conspiracies – and is now reminding me more of Half Life – aliens invading earth. It is a level based trial-and-error game. Currently I’m at a high level where the number of possible errors in one level is causing a lot of trials ;^) With those errors tending to cluster at the end of sequence which is repeated over and over, it can be a bit discouraging.

An interesting thought I had is that this is not fundamentally different than DDR. You have a level or a song, which you perform and either pass or fail, perhaps receiving some other grades. The difference is the top level structure. A song in DDR takes only a couple of minutes to play, and regardless of performance you can move on to something else when you are finished. Levels in Perfect Dark may take quite a while to play, and you can’t advance unless you succeed. This isn’t strictly true of course – Perfect Dark is structured more like DDR than many level based games – you can go back and play any previous mission at any time and each has three difficulty levels. To some extent I may just be viewing the game from the wrong paradigm. Still, in a plot structured game I don’t find going back to retread old ground very compelling


Once upon a time, children learned by playing. They experienced the world. In many cases they even got jobs. The were able to “see and do”.

Then came school. Children “read and write” about things while they sit in a classroom. Understandably, some people questioned this.

Along come video games with “credible simulated environments.” Now some people are very excited because children will be able to “see and do” instead of “read and write”. While sitting in a classroom.

(And, incidentally, experiencing the crafted virtual world created for them instead of the real world of experience.)

Today’s small rant courtesy (registration required):


After a gentle introduction by Shaun, I thought I might get Dance Dance Revolution to keep up some kind of exercise during the winter. I was, however, swayed by the argument that regular exercise increases general energy levels.

So I went out and got a set a few weeks ago. I’m working at about 3-4 on a difficulty scale of 10; the right of difficulty increase goes up dramatically from here though, so progress will be much slower. At least starting to get to the songs that can get my heart pumping ;^)

All work and no play makes Justin a dull boy?

It occurred to me a few days ago that one of the differences in my current life, as opposed to the past, is that I haven’t actually been playing electronic games. Probably the last was Black & White or Sacrifice. The question being whether this has any effect on my general energy level and motivation.

Easy enough to test: trading in my old SNES with a bunch of games and accessorys got me essentially enough store credit for a Nintendo 64 and two games; I got three in total: Mario 64, and the two Zelda games. Both of these series have been good in the past, and I’ve been curious to try out some of Miamoto’s(sp?) slightly more recent work.

So far I’ve been playing Mario, lots of nice touches in there. None of the games still had manuals, but Mario has copious signs that tell you everything you need. You start out in a very nearly total safe zone – about the only way to hurt yourself would be to intentionally drown. That leads on to only one choice of starting world, with the game slowly unfolding into near total freedom. Of course freedom open us errors as well; I’m pretty sure I should have been able to hit the red-block switch by now, but the entrance has evaded me. So far, from a rough estimate of the number of stars in the game, I should be at least 3/4 of the way through the game.

New Game Pattern Group

There is an interesting article on Gamasutra about Game Taxonomies The references also pointed to a new group doing game design patterns: They are still hiding their pattern database, but there are some interesting articles in the publications section.

Maybe I should move to northern europe. That seems to be where all the interesting programming and game design research is going on ;^)

Another interesting note is that the the Call To Power II source code has been released.