Finding of the week #49

First thoughts on the development process of a 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 like to share with you my first insights into the process of developing a game and how game engines provide a framework to create a new game.

The process of researching the educational effects of computer games is mostly achieved by conducting surveys. Apart from using already existing games to conduct such a survey, it could be also necessary to create a new game from scratch. The new game could focus mostly on the desired training goal and thus allow an in-depth analysis of the influence of the game on the learning outcome. My current research project requires such a new game to allow me to focus on a particular topic.

Although I won’t need to program the game completely on my own, it’s very important to have good programming skills and insights in the game development process. And this brings me to my last two weeks.

During my career, I already finished some small programming projects, but I’ve never used a game engine. Furthermore, these small programming projects were only on an occasional basis and thus I don’t have much programming experience.
Now, with my research project in mind, I need to develop my game development skills and get an idea how I can realize game projects with a game engine. In order to do so, I started to watch some tutorial videos on youtube on how to develop a game with Unity3D[1].

After a few videos, the process of developing games became pretty clear to me, at least in Unity. The advantage of using a game engine like Unity is that it provides a good graphical framework and an access to the user control interfaces. Moreover, the game engine provides good tools to create levels, to import models from other 3D modelling tools and to manage textures. This makes, from a design point of view, creating interesting landscapes and environments quite easy. However, a game mechanic itself needs to be realized using scripts.

These scripts are the main tools of creating new game mechanics and thus the game itself. The biggest challenge comes from the fact that the idea of a certain game mechanic needs to be converted into the used programming language. Like in general programming, it’s important to define all the important variables and how they need to be changed to realize the desired game mechanic. As soon as the game mechanic is converted into the programming language, creating game mechanics is basically a normal programming process.

After the script is written, it can be managed using the game engine. The game engine provides the option to apply the script to a game entity and thus the game entity receives the functionality of the script.
As an example, the script could create a healthpoint pool and realize a functionality of loosing and gaining health. After the script is applied to a game entity, the entity now can gain and loose health.

After having gained some insights into the game development with Unity, I’ll need to get some insights into the different approaches of using other game engines. In this case, I like to gain also some experiences using the Source and the Unreal engine.
Additionally, as a game researcher, it’s pretty interesting to get some insights behind the scenes of the game development. It gives me a new point of view on the way how game mechanics work and how they’re developed.

Finding of the week #48

Sandbox computer game Let’s Plays

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 like to give a very brief overview about the entertaining combination of sandbox computer games and the creation of Let’s Play videos.

I’ve already defined Let’s play videos (LP) [1] and discussed why open world and sandbox games provide their players with unique experiences [2]. Although it’s quite an obvious step, I like to discuss the combination of both approaches.

Sandbox games allow players to express their creativity and to play around with an open world they can shape without any constraints. Creating LPs is also a creative process, because players create an additional narrative arc through their comments.
In this case, creating a LP is already an expression of the own creativity. However, the resulting LP video about a game with a linear story is mostly linear, too. The feelings and the narrative arc of the player might be different, but the main content of the LP itself is mostly the same, if different LPs about the same linear game are compared.
Naturally, each player has a different approach and thus the LPs are distinguished by the narrative arc. The expression of the own creativity remains still intact, but it’s mostly biased by the story of the game, which is being played in the LP.

In contrast to linear game LPs, a sandbox game LP gives the player the opportunity to express the own creativity in two different dimensions. The first dimension is the same as of a linear game LP: the additional narrative arc of the player.
However, due to the fact that playing a sandbox game is already an expression of the own creativity, a sandbox game LP has an additional dimension of creativity. The player has the opportunity to create a completely new and unique story out of the openess of a sandbox game.
At this point, the gameplay itself already becomes the most obvious part, which distinguishes different LPs about the same computer game. However, the narrative arc created by the player is still very important, because it adds some context to the gameplay presented in the video. Without the important narrative arc added by commentating the gameplay, the LP could be hard to follow, because sandbox computer games don’t provide an own narrative arc like linear computer games.

Finally, from the standpoint of a viewer, LPs about sandbox computer games allow a broader variety of different „channels“. A LP about a linear game is still entertaining to follow, but watching a LP about the same game from a different player won’t provide much more new and interesting events. However, sandbox game or open world LPs are different all the time, because the gameplay itself allows unlimeted different approaches. In the end, the combination of sandbox computer games and LPs has created a new trend of approaching these games: the game becomes more and more a framework to present the own creativity to others.

Finding of the week #47

Globally connected through education

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 like share some of my recent experiences I made with the online education website Coursera.

This article is one of the very rare exceptions, that will not cover any computer game related topic. Instead, I want to talk a bit more about new ways how scientific education takes place. However, I don’t want to generalize this topic in this article. Instead, I like to introduce this world wide learning environment by presenting my latest experiences.

The new learning environment I’m talking about is Coursera is an education company that allows universities and organizations to create online education courses for free. Almost everyone from all over the world can gain access to Coursera and join a broad variety of different courses.
As I was introduced to Coursera, I found the concept very appealing, but at this time, I had so many other things in mind and I never felt like it would be a good idea to join an online course. Of course, I still don’t have much time and so it might sound a bit crazy to join a class with several hours of workload per week, but I’m really enjoying it and it’s also a bit like a recreation to me, when I’m engaged in a completely different scientific field.

Joining a course in Coursera is almost like enrolling in a course at a university. The biggest difference comes from the fact, that these courses are online and can be accessed on an individual time schedule. Every week new video lectures are published and can be viewed by the students. Additionally, some supplementary material can be provided to enhance the learning outcome. Finally, the Coursera website provides a homework function so that students can also complete homework tasks, when they’re interested in.

From my point of view, the most interesting feature of Coursera comes from the fact that it connects people from all over the world. Students from all over the world, who probably would have never met, can discuss the knowledge presented in the video lectures and help each other to solve the homework assignments.

I like to end this short article with my most recent Coursera experience. The instructor of my current course is very active on the forums and provides a lot of supplementary material to enhance the learning outcome. One of the most impressive things he did were some Google Hangouts[1]. Interested students had the opportunity to join him in a Google Hangout and talk to him „face-to-face“ about the topics of the course. As I joined one of these hangouts, I really felt connected to the whole world. Not only that I was able to ask my instructor some questions, I was also able to follow the discussion with other participants from all over the world.

Thank you Ronen Plesser for giving us so many great insights into astronomy and for spending so much of your time on answering our curious questions.

Finding of the week #46

Early access experiences

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 like to discuss the different gameplay experience of early access games compared to final release versions. Early access games can provide the player with a constant stream of new features, which can cause the impression of playing a completely different game.

Playing early access games (EA) is to a certain degree different from playing a release version of a computer game. In general, in both cases the player enters the virtual game world and can interact with it. However, the fact that an EA is still under development can often lead to unique experiences a release version can’t provide. The following article is mostly based on my own observations while playing early access games.

A release version of a game is finished and completed. All the features are implemented and the player should be able to explore the world without being disturbed by any bugs or balance issues. On the other hand, a finished game won’t change anymore. Of course, developers can release some additional addons or some additional content, which extent the game world a bit. Although these addons can provide some additional experiences, the game itself won’t provide a constant stream of new experiences like an EA.

Providing an early access version has also changed a bit the expectations and the approach of players towards new games. Back in the days, computer games were announced, had maybe a closed beta test and were only accessible for the majority of computer game players after the final product was finished and polished. Today, assuming an early access version is provided, players can start to experience a new game world in the current state of the development and have not to wait until it’s completely finished.

From my point of view, the most interesting thing of playing an EA comes from the fact, that these games can provide a constant stream of new experiences on a regular basis. Everytime the developers implement a new feature, the whole gameplay can change and the game can appear as a completely new game.

I already visited different celestial bodies in Kerbal Space Program (KSP)[1] before the career mode was implemented. The career mode currently relies on a tech-tree the player can unlock to gain access to more powerful rocket and plane components. Unlocking the tech-tree requires the player to do „science“ by visiting different zones of the KSP solar system and conducting different experiments in the particular zone.
In general, the solar system hasn’t really changed with the career mode – the only difference was the implementation of different biomes on some of the celestial bodies. Apart from the biomes, all the celestial bodies still look the same and still are reachable the same way as before. However, due to the fact that playing career mode restricts my approaches to the components I’ve unlocked and that I actually need to conduct some experiments, the game seems to be completely different. Still, I’m landing on the same moon as in the sandbox mode, but being able to bring back some valuable data and thinking about how to get the most science out of one mission provides me with a completely new experience of the gameplay.

The same goes for another spaceflight related EA: Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager (SPM)[2]. The first versions of the SPM came without the option to land on the Moon. Only a few missions were available and the Mercury Program was the only way to launch an astronaut into space. Over time, the Gemini and the Apollo Program were implemented and thus I was able to explore the space in more different ways. Finally, a career mode was implemented, too. The career mode in SPM challenges me with some campaign objectives I need to complete until a certain deadline or I will lose some points or even lose the complete game.

One could argue, that all these features of the game could have been available right away to really enjoy the game, but from my point of view, this is not true. The constant stream of new features gives me as a player the feeling of progression. At first, I’m only able to land on a celestial body in KSP, but I can’t really benefit from this. At this point, I have to admit that landing on a new celestial body was a really exciting moment and the biggest reward I can receive in computer games are emotional rewards. In this case just landing on a celestial body was a great reward. After I did a lot of flights to other planets, the feature of collecting science was implemented. In my case, I felt like I really made some spaceflight progress and now I’m able to perform better in the game world. I now can even bring back some data!

My experiences while playing SPM over several new versions were almost the same. I learned to play the game, I learned how to manage my space agency. This new knowledge finally helped me to extend the variety of available missions and goals I can achieve in the game.

As a conclusion, EA can reward the player in different dimensions. On the one hand, new features can change the complete gameplay and the players can get the impression, that they’re playing a different game. New options, new ways and new spaces can be explored and recharge the excitement of exploring the game world.
Additionally, as the player makes some progress in learning the game, the game itself makes some progress and provides some new features, too. If the implementation of a new feature aligns with the learning curve of the players, the players can get the impression as if they learnt something new and they’re now more powerful.

Although the learning curve dimension can be biased by the sort of new added features and the genre of the game itself, the change of the gameplay by adding new features to it will be causing all the time a new gaming experience. In the end, compared to final release games, playing an EA will be different with every new version and thus can lead to a completely new trend of enjoying computer games.