— Blog —

Games from My Childhood

Ah... Games from my childhood bring back such fond memories; being out on slides and running around in parks, terrified of losing! My favorite game used to be "Gallery". It was probably some unknown local genius' accomplishment because I've never heard of it outside of my Sector in Chandigarh. 

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Jivitesh Dhaliwal Comment
Representing Characters

I had an interesting revelation; I was reading Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” and came across the part where he explains the use of comics to represent concepts. He realized an interesting truth: the more abstract the character in the comic, the more we can fill up our own details on that character, and thus the greater we can empathize with that character. Upon reading this, I realized why Disney's movies moved me. Disney movies generally feature protagonists with rather abstract features— the people look a lot more “cartoony” than they would in real life. It isn’t that the technology to create life-like characters does not exist, the real genius lies behind choosing not to represent characters that way.

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Asking the Right Questions

This is one of the most important things I’ve learnt from an experiment that took 2 years of my life. I was the sole developer on my game, and I had to think about what made my game better. 

At first, I started with the wrong questions. What if I made the icon into the shape of a lightening bolt? Where can I go to learn how to make good looking 3D models? Which software is the best for developing games? 

Slowly, I began to realize my error. I was not getting to the root cause of things. I had to ask the right questions, and these questions would lead me down better, more thought provoking rabbit holes. I started asking more why questions. Why do I even need an icon? Why do I need music? Why do I need to build an AI system? Why am I making this game?

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On Uncertainty In Games

Enjoyment is not a requirement of game systems in and of themselves, but is a necessary condition nevertheless for voluntary player engagement. Why this is so could be better explained through psychology. The neurotransmitter dopamine is predominantly responsible for decision making and pursuing pleasure. The interesting thing is that dopamine is not as dependent on the reward, as on the anticipation and prediction of receiving a reward.  Our brains are set up to exploit conditions where more rewards (food for example) could be obtained. If one is able to successfully predict where the next meal will come from, they would have a better chance at survival. Thus, the brain aims to understand why it got that unexpected reward. That is why games like chess are so engaging; A victory is like finding food, and the player then works backward to figure out what they did that made them win. However, since the number of ways of winning in chess is near infinite, there is always some new path to understand, and thus, a constant stream of dopamine. 

This psychological understanding of our brains presents an interesting consideration: uncertainty is enjoyable only when it influences outcome. By outcome, I do not mean the binary “Win” or “Lose” condition, but a broader, player defined state which she deems as being important based on her own inferences. This could be a crucial part of the story in Dungeons and Dragons or the condition where the player dies in Counter Strike while her team is still in play. Uncertainty will keep the players coming back to understand how things work in the game and what they can do to maximize their rewards.

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What's the Story? (Or Why My Game Character Has Amnesia)

A story is the observation of a series of actions, so while our player may be carving out a novel story, it might not be the most interesting one. A good story within a game would be one where for every path through the series of actions, an experience is scripted beforehand by a narrative designer. This becomes a daunting task for the narrative designer because true choice afforded to the player means they can do anything.

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