Finding of the week #278

Different Player Types but One Community

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the skewed view some viewers might have on the contents of Let’s Play videos: they like to see that the gameplay follows their own approach to the game.

Creating and publishing Let’s Play videos (LPs) not only is a creative activity, but also a way to share own gaming experiences with a world-wide community. Also, LPs allow a player to track the own gameplay and document decisions which can be very interesting for later evaluations in the case of a computer game that requires a lot of decision-making.

Aside from simply sharing the own gameplay with a large audience, LPs also provide the opportunity to discuss approaches and solutions with the audience. Depending on the genre of the game and the frequency with which new episodes are released, viewers can also provide suggestions thus actively helping the player or collaboratively developing vast builds.

However, the content creator also has to be very careful how to approach and treat the viewers and their suggestions, respectively. Vice-versa, viewers also need to understand that the content creators might have a different approach to the game and might not necessarily want to play it in the most efficient way. Instead, it is more about just playing the game as it is without optimizing everything like a player who is enjoying the game without recording it.

As a content creator, it is important to tell a good story with the gameplay which can also include a lot of wrong decisions. These wrong decisions can lead to a more entertaining LP series as things are suddenly way more complex or result in more funny moments. In addition, while the underlying idea of offering help is much appreciated, content creators might want to experience the game themselves without being guided by their viewers. Being guided can drastically reduce the entertaining aspects of a game when a player likes to make own experiences and learn form them.

In conclusion, the content creator is just a regular computer game player who likes to simultaneously entertain others with their gameplay. This, however, also includes that, unless they ask for it, they like to explore the game on their own without being directed by their viewers. Viewers, on the other hand, might already have a more in-depth experience with the game and like to provide help to the content creator to see them succeed. In this process, they might accidentally overlook the fact that it’s not necessarily about efficiency but simply fun.

Finding of the week #277

Achieving the right mindset

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how computer games can help us to recall acquired knowledge and to improve the mental models that store it.

When acquiring new knowledge, we compile mental models for it. These mental models are complex mental representations that allow for an internal visualization. Mental models are situation specific and, as a result of this, the knowledge training is especially effective when it creates similar requirements to the targeted application of the knowledge. This is important as mental models allow for a training transfer from the training environment to the actual application of the knowledge.

Computer games have a high potential to achieve such a knowledge training as they can simulate any learning content and create similar requirements to a real world application. However, the degree of realism also depends on the used input devices and the overall environment in which the simulation is experienced.

Aside from achieving an effective knowledge training, computer games can help us to retain acquired knowledge and to update the respective mental models. This is achieved by simulating the targeted knowledge in such a way that, despite not reaching a high degree realism, the mental models are still used to solve presented problems. In this way, users are required to apply their mental models for problem-solving thus recalling the stored information. In addition, computer games visualize the knowledge’s application thus improving the mental models by further visualizations.

For instance, a flight simulation computer game requires all principles of flight during the gameplay. Players can apply relevant knowledge by practicing flight maneuvers, radio navigation, and standardized approaches. As a result, although not being in a real cockpit, pilots can challenge themselves to apply their flight skills and to recall them. Thus, the gameplay results in a deliberate practice that ultimately leads to a completely automated or pattern-driven application of the knowledge, e.g., the flight skills.

In conclusion, computer games not only allow players to acquire and practice new knowledge, they also have the potential to require knowledge in a simplified way. This requirement still activates a player’s mental model thus improving it. As a result, although not being able to practice the knowledge in a real world application, users are able to automate their knowledge and gain expertise with its application. Hence, they are still prepared when they have to apply this knowledge in a real world context.

Finding of the week #276

Provide some basic guidance

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the importance of clearly stating a player’s goals to provide a guideline during a playthrough.

Some weeks ago, I started playing Eco that challenges a player with the task to save the world from a threatening meteor. This task requires the player to gather resources and to research new technologies. However, the more advanced the technologies become, the higher is their impact on the ecology. Thus, Eco demonstrates how the player’s activities lead to a potential pollution of the environment and, as a result of this, players might learn to be more thoughtful about their actions and activities in the real world.

However, despite this very interesting concept of the game, I encountered the problem that I suddenly felt lost. The game provides me with a broad variety of researchable technologies and activities to increase my quality of life inside of the game. Unfortunately, the current version of the game does not provide me with a clear list of things I have to achieve to make some progress. Also, many things and activities seem not well enough explained thus causing some confusion about the effects of my actions.

Farming in Eco

For instance, I created a small farm area, but there are no signs that my farming attempts are going into the right direction of if I need to provide additional infrastructure to grow my crops. As a result, I can merely guess that I need to somehow unlock new skills to have more abilities allowing for an improvement of my farming activities.

Things are even more complicated for the current skill tree that allows me to unlock and improve new actions inside of the game. However, as the structure of the skill tree seems rather confusing, I am frequently unsure, if my choices are going into the right direction.

Of course, there are plenty sources for further information on the internet, but as a player, I prefer to stay within in the boundaries of the game instead of switching to my web browser to research how I can achieve a particular thing inside of a game.

Personally, I enjoy games like Eco that provide a very complex simulation with a great amount of different variables that create a very dense world. However, as long as a player does not exactly know how things can be achieved, the gameplay of those complex games can be also quite frustrating.

In the end, Eco is still in development and many things will be improved over time. In this case, this is not an article about the issues of the game, but more an article discussing the lessons learned and the importance of of game design decisions that might be helpful for new game designers who like to create advanced virtual worlds.

Finding of the week #273

Eco – An Educational Game

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about Eco which makes environmental problems caused by a high degree of pollution to a central gameplay element. As a result, players directly experience how their own actions potentially lead to a destruction of a pristine environment.

Rising awareness for global problems that can arise due to too much pollution is an important and critical goal these days. For instance, the ongoing rapid climate change can be contributed to the man-made emission that drastically increased over the period of the last century. However, it often is difficult and easy to overlook how our actions and lifestyles are contributing to this global problem.

Therefore, it is critical to educate people about the global and ecological problems we are facing. In addition, it is very important to connect this education to their very own actions. In this way, the education would be even more effective as it potentially achieves a general understanding that everyone has to take actions. One possible solution to this problem could be to embed this ecological education in a computer game.

Eco

Just today, I bought the computer game Eco that tries to educate players about environmental problems by making them to a core aspect of the gameplay. At the beginning of Eco, each player starts in a pristine environment that faces a fatal fate: a meteor is approaching the player’s planet and will destroy it. Hence, players are challenged to find a way to save the world by researching new technologies that can stop the meteor.

This, however, comes at a high price because they need to gather resources from the world to achieve this goal. For this purpose, players can, amongst other things, chop down trees, farm crops and build advance mining system. At the same time, by interacting with the environment, they leave behind traces and potentially even change the entire environment. By chopping down every tree, habitats of specific animals might get destroyed which ultimately results in their extinction. Advanced mining systems produce polluted water which, when it is dumped into a river, can pollute an entire region. As a result, players are challenged to carefully think about how they will interact with the world to ultimately stop the meteor.

The game even is designed to be collaboratively played by larger groups of people. Hence, the game can be implemented in schools thus allowing for a more immersive discussion and education about ecological problems. The multiplayer aspect is combined with a political system where players can try to negotiate agreements that limit emissions and reduce pollutions.

By connecting the potential pollution of the virtual world to a player’s actions, Eco creates a special educative gameplay. While playing the game, players not only see the effects of polluting a pristine environment, but they also make the experience of being responsible for these problems. As a result of this, Eco helps to rise a global awareness and to start further discussions about our own actions and new technologies that can save our pale blue dot.

Finding of the week #271

Me the Truck Driver

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how games can provide a different perspective that allows for the development of an understanding for specific problems that often seem very annoying.

Driving behind a large truck often is annoying as it feels like a huge loss of time due to their slow speeds. Things even tend to get worse when the road features a lot of turns or uphill parts that even further reduce a truck’s speed. The annoyance is a result of our own desire to drive at speeds we personally like. Thus, we feel unhappy and potentially even get angry when we are stuck behind such a slow vehicle.

Unfortunately, it is also very easy to forget about the vehicle’s technical characteristics that mainly account for the slow speeds. Trucks transport heavy loads that cannot be quickly accelerated. For the purpose of transporting the carfgo, a truck’s transmission often features twice as much gears as a normal car thus allowing the truck to gradually accelerate despite the heavy trailer. At the same time, decelerating and driving through narrow turns is also problematic due to the high momentum of a fully loaded truck.

Players can drive a variety of different trucks

Recently, I played Euro Truck Simulator 2 again. The gameplay of this simulation game not only is relaxing, but also informs players about the challenges of driving those heavy vehicles. The game puts players into the role of a truck driver who can accept various transport contracts. The contracts then require the user to transport specific goods from one European city to a different one. As a result, most of the gameplay is spend on country roads or highways which mostly results in a very relaxing experience.

Driving those virtual trucks provides similar challenges to driving a real world truck. A player has to learn to work with the low gear ratio of the trucks to successfully drive them along the roads. Also, the game challenges players to back into the unloading space which is a difficult training process in itself. Players need to develop an understanding for the techniques of controlling a trailer when driving backwards to successfully deliver their cargo.

Driving along a highway

In the end, despite not being super realistic, the game allows for an interesting change of perspective and educates players about the challenges of a truck driver. This in return could result in a reduced amount of frustration when the player is once again stuck behind a truck while driving. Also, the game allows to practice difficult parking maneuvers which can be beneficial for every car driver. It would be interesting to test if the practiced game truck driving knowledge can directly be transferred to the real world.

Finding of the week #270

The Fascination of Being Evil

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the fascination of being evil and acting against the own principles inside of virtual worlds.

Some games allow for an evil or dark gameplay. This is achieved by either presenting an evil subject, allowing for decision-making and/or providing players with a complete freedom to do what they desire. The first approach puts players into the role of a supervillain trying to turn the world into a darker place, a member of a gang or mafia family, or simply making illegal activities to an integral part of the gameplay. For instance, the games of the Grand Theft Auto series allow players to steal vehicles or attack other non-player characters (NPCs) for no good reason.

The second approach is implemented by providing the option to choose between different ways of reacting to a request from NPCs. Instead of automatically helping them, players then can also decide to ignore the request or even send the NPCs into a trap to ultimately loot their remains. Frequently, this method is combined with a narrative that changes based on a player’s decisions. For instance, in the Mass Effect games, a player can decide to let an NPC die instead of helping him. This then results in the outcome that the player will not have a second encounter with this NPC later on. Also, it changes the entire story and leads to a different ending. Moreover, this method lets a player experience ethical questions and challenges her morale-decision making ability.

Finally, open world games can be used to provide players with a complete freedom. This, however, also requires the implementation of specific player abilities allowing for the execution of evil activities inside of the virtual worlds. For instance, Skyrim allows players to break into the houses of NPCs to steal their belongings or to attack other NPCs and to play the game as an outlaw.

Personally, I find it very interesting to try out things that are completely against my own principles. Normally, like in the real world, I like to interact with the virtual worlds in a good way and try to help all the NPCs I encounter. However, from time to time, it is refreshing to simply experiment with actions and reactions that would occur when I channel my darker-inner-self. In the end, it is fascinating to be evil from time to time.

Finding of the week #268

Timelapsed Gameplay

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how Let’s Plays are an interesting way to enjoy a complex game’s gameplay when not enough time is available to play the game oneself.

So far, I mostly looked at Let’s Play videos (LPs) from the point of view of a content creator and viewers who enjoy playing the game themselves. This time, I like to introduce another aspect of watching LPs: the chance of experiencing the game in a way that is not possible for the viewer.

Open world (building) games allow for a very creative gameplay as players can create impressive virtual environments from scratch, such as vivid towns, massive buildings and other complex structures. While the underlying principles are quite simple, completing such an advanced project often requires a huge amount of time. The games require players to gather and refine materials needed for the construction. Depending on the abundance and transmutation costs, this can take many hours of gameplay to store enough resources.

The creative part of constructing the project also requires time. On the one hand, games can challenge a player to add piece by piece to a building which can result in a huge amount of gametime for large projects. On the other hand, open world games avoid restricting the player hence a player has the complete freedom while building. As a result of this, a user might realize that a particular part of a projects needs to be restructured thus requiring additional time to finish a project.

For instance, building a rail system allowing for a quick travel in Minecraft is a simple task. A player merely has to place rails adjacent to each other to connect them and construct a rail line. However, crafting a rail requires a specific amount of wood and iron which needs to be gathered. In addition, the iron needs to be smelted before it can be used. Finally, player can express their creativity by building rail systems of various shapes thus they might be challenged to refine the layout multiple times until they are satisfied.

In sum, achieving something spectacular can require a lot of time and dedication. This time constraint, however, can make it very difficult for players who simply cannot afford putting so much effort into such a project. Thus, it can already be very rewarding and entertaining watching others implement their ideas and following their progress. When creating an LP episode, content creators can edit out the laborious gameplay of gathering resources or assembling structures out of small pieces. Instead, they simply show the progress of their builds over time.

Naturally, this is not the same as playing the game oneself. However, I personally like watching other players‘ ambitious projects becoming reality as it inspires me. Also, due to other tasks, I currently cannot immerse myself that much in a game, but I really like to see what is possible.

In the end, although LPs are not a substitute for the real gameplay, they can still provide viewers with experiences they hardly can make under normal circumstances.

Finding of the week #267

The Gamepad Skill

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my own difficulties when playing a console game as I am not used to play a game using gamepads. This observation provides another example for the requirement of well-trained human skills to successfully play a computer game.

Recently, we rediscovered the Playstation console in our meeting room and installed God of War on it. The game is an hack-and-slay action game and played from a 3rd-person perspective. God of War’s main challenge lies in the goal to defeat large groups of enemies or very powerful boss encounter by using the main characters abilities. These abilities mostly consist of combinable normal and powerful melee attacks and damage avoidance techniques such as dodging and blocking.

In this way, players are challenged to monitor an enemy’s behavior, to avoid taking damage and to defeat it as soon as possible. This, however, requires the player to quickly adjust to the situation and to move around to always face the enemies. As a result of this, a player’s hand-eye coordination is challenged to quickly react to the gameplay.

As the game is played on the Playstation, the only available input device is a Playstation controller. All navigation, interaction and view controls are mapped to the controller’s various buttons and thumbsticks. While performing actions using the controller’s buttons is not too much different to pressing keys on a keyboard, controlling my avatar’s orientation using a tiny thumbstick is very challenging. As a PC gamer, I am used to controll my perspective and to aim at targets with the mouse that allows for a very precise control in contrast to the thumbsticks.

As a result of this, although the gameplay itself is not very difficult, it seems to me very challenging as my avatar constantly faces into the wrong direction. It also shows how much playing a computer game requires constant practice to automatize and master the interaction methods.

Finding of the week #266

No Virtual Substitute for the Real Device

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about some examples where a virtual simulation of a specific learning content cannot achieve a similar training effect as accurate and sensitive physical interactions are required.

Game-based and simulation-based training applications allow learners to learn and train new knowledge in an engaging environment. This virtual environment not only provides immediate feedback about the correctness of a user’s inputs, but it also visualizes the learning content in a way that is not possible in the real world. Also, by As a result, learners can develop an in-depth understanding of the underlying principles in a highly motivated way.

The training effect can even be increased when the training system implements immersive virtual reality (IVR) by rendering the gameplay to a Head-Mounted Display (HMD). An HMD allows users to visually immerse themselves in a virtual environment by blocking all visual information from the real world surrounding the user. In this way, a learner can experience the feeling of being directly inside of the virtual environment. This feeling of presence can increase the training effects as the knowledge then is presented in a more natural way to the learner.

Although training applications can simulate any knowledge and allow for a distant knowledge training, some learning contents still need the right hardware to provide haptic feedback for physical training. For instance, it is possible to present trainees large and complex machines in IVR to allow them to inspect their structure and learn about maintenance procedures even though they are just in a classroom. However, training the physical skills to actually disassemble and reassemble such a machine requires haptic feedback as learners need to know how to utilize the required tools correctly.

This problem also applies to other learning contents that require sensitive physical interactions. Recently, a friend and I were playing a mobile piano game requiring us to touch the touchscreen in the right moment and with the right amount of fingers to get the rhythm and keystrokes right. Thus, this game only allows for a rhythm training but not for an actual piano training.

We also tried a VR piano training game that was developed by a group of students who attended one of my seminars. While this VR game allows for a playful interaction with a virtual clavier, it still lacks haptic feedback as it is played using the HTC Vive controllers. However, the virtual environment has the potential to highlight the correct keys in order to guide the user and to explain the instrument. Hence, a player can only learn which of the keys has to be pressed in order to get a specific note but cannot practice sensitive physical interactions. Using a real clavier to interact with the training application would be the best solution, but then the virtual environment would be no longer needed.

As a result of this, training simulations allow for a good declarative knowledge training. However, when the learning content requires the physical interaction with a specific device, it becomes very complicated to achieve a good training environment due to the lack of a good haptic feedback that could create a substitute for the real device.

Finding of the week #265

Difficulties of playing mobile games

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my main issues when playing mobile games. These special games mostly implement the device’s touchscreen as input method which frequently results in falsely recognized inputs.

About a month ago, I finally started to play mobile games on a more frequent basis. As mobile games are played on cellphones, they can be used almost anywhere as long as I have my mobilde device with me. Also, the gameplay of those games is designed to be paused at any time and thus allows for quick and short game sessions. This especially is great as I currently do not have much time available to play computer games but still like to continue one of my favorite hobbies.

In contrast to other gaming devices, mobile games mostly implement the cellphone’s touchscreen as the core input method. As a result of this, the interactions have to be designed in a very simple way and be mapped to touch or drag gestures. The functionality of the touchscreen, however, adds another constraint to the interactions. A user can not simply keep a finger placed at a specific position to be ready for an upcoming input as it would be possible with traditional input devices. By keeping a finger on the sensor, the game potentially recognizes wrong inputs and can not be played successfully.

Another problem that can occur is the recognition of wrong inputs. For instance, Fallout Shelter allows a player to change the own perspective by touching the screen and „dragging“ the scenery around. The same interaction, however, needs to be performed to assign one of the virtual inhabitants of the user’s vault to a new task. As a result of this, I occasionally experience issues when I like to assign a dweller to a new task or when I like to change my perspective and accidently grab one of my inhabitants.

Therefore, as some kind of guideline, it is necessary to carefully decide how a user shall interact with the game and how to ensure a good usability of the selected interactions. In addition, it is critical to avoid assigning different interactions to the same gesture that can be performed on the same screen.