Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Games Britannia, Part One: Dicing with Destiny

Digital games only cover a few decades of game history, so to investigate games history with an in-depth understanding we need to delve way back in the past.

Our first experience of ancient games history started 2 weeks ago with British games history, Games Britannia. Games Britannia is a 3 episode series, presented by Benjamin Woolley, covering Britain's first games industry and games. The series history spans from the Iron Age to the Information Age.

Just to spoil anyone planning to watch the series, here are some quick notes on what I found out after I watched Games Britannia part 1, these notes do not cover everything.

 There are three types of game:
From the Libro de Los Jeugos (Book of Games) commissioned by Alfonso X, a Castillian monarch from the east, Spain .

Fatalist, players submission to fate.

 E.g chess, pertaining free will.

A game that balances chance and skill to imitate life.

Why do people play games? 
People get bored so they play games or invent games to play to pass the time, it is ingrained in the human mind. 

Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men's Morris at Nevern castle. Copyrighted but also licensed for further reuse, Photo by ceridwen
An ancient game played in the 14th and 15th century, and patterns engraved at Kurna in Egypt may imply it was played as early as 1440 BC. The game is split in to three stages: the opening, mid-game and endgame. The objective is to eliminate your opponents pieces by getting three of your own pieces in a line on the horizontal or vertical lines. Once a piece is removed it is no longer part of the game. The winning condition is if the player has reduced their opponents number of pieces to two.


Dice was associated with the Devil.

Dice type games condemned by Church, "Calling the will of God  to determine..." an action or choice.

Games that were covered: Faro, Hazard.

Gambling addiction, only now is recognized as an addiction, developed throughout the early ages.

Middle class opinion of games, "Games are for degenerates".

The first murder related to gaming was committed by Fertil, murdering his friend for a £300 gambling debt. Acts like this instated the Gaming Act 1845 in the UK, for later years the Gaming Act 2005.

 Industrial Revolution
  • Introduced the first commercialised games
  • Snakes and Ladders, originated from India, the game's original goal is to reach enlightenment and the progress through the game is a metaphor for "spiritual ascension".
  • English adapted games, removing religious themes or elements, from different countries where they colonised, back to England.
The New Goose Game (c.1900). Copyrighted but also licensed for further reuse, photo by Peacay.

Game of Goose
Features: Spinning top as a replacement for dice.
Point of game: To show how a person should behave, and to reach the goal of virtue.

My thoughts on the episode

I really liked the explanations of the 3 types of games, the Book of Games stated the essentials of the types of games in ancient history. I wish they showed more of the book, I will probably do a search for it later on the Internet.

The parts I was most interested in were: where games originated from and why they were made. Some  games were created to teach religion.Some games diverged from the general "game" type, for example gambling from the game of chance and evolved to include betting, then to include money and real meaning to the game. I agree with Woolley's explanation on why people play games, but  it left me wondering if betting can be really classed as a game; people don't really play anything, they just bet money on if an event will happen, there is no skill or meaning of development for the player. I guess it can be classed as a game because it builds an experience of pleasure (or pain) depending on the outcome and the player does have some choice.

The fact that a game had influence on reality, for someone to commit a murder over is shocking but not unbelievable, such as the example of Fertil and his gambling debt highlighted in the episode. Recently I have read deaths of gang members, in Korea, relating to "Guild Feuds", where players murdered rival guild members in the real world. Other types of games leave people so consumed with it they pass out or die from not eating. This addiction is not solely on gambling now, it is prevalent in all types of games. On the bright side, games still have positive effects on society: they create communities, educate, bring family and friends closer together. Modern games create experiences in more advanced and fun ways. 

Games are constantly expanding and diverging in to more different types, who knows what the future of games will be like or what sort of technology we will play them on. I certainly wouldn't mind playing naughts and crosses on a misty window or on my friend's shiny Ipad, however it is easier to create it by hand rather than coding it.


Games Britannia, Dicing with Destiny

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Games are consumables?! Rise of the MDA framework

Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics (MDA) is a framework developed at the game Developers Conference, San Jose 2001-2004 by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek.

MDAs' purpose is to help guide creative ideas and ensure quality of the development and production of games. Game designers should use this framework to analyze and refine their game by considering the range of possibilities.

Leblanc's view of  games is that they are consumed by players and are produced by designers or teams of developers. Leblanc stated that:
"Games are created by designers/teams of developers, and
consumed by players. They are purchased, used and
eventually cast away like most other consumable goods. " [2004]. 
 As games are consumed, the result or "taste" of the game can be unpredictable which players describe whether a game is "fun" or not.

The MDA framework formalizes the consumption of games by breaking them into their distinct components:

Rules -> System -> "Fun"

Leblanc names the design counterparts:

Mechanics -> Dynamics -> Aesthetics

So what do these counterparts mean?

"The particular components of a game , at the level of data representation and algorithms". These can be a games':
  • Objects/pieces/items
  • Players
  • Rules
  • Map/level
  • Controls
  • Actions
The mechanics  support the gameplay dynamics, so that players can actually play the game. Game designers should take note to balance the mechanics so that players do not exploit the rules, and play the game as intended.

"The runtime behaviour of the mechanics acting on player inputs and each others' outputs over time." 
Dynamics are the expected reactions, of the system, by the players to create intention or meaning to their actions or interaction with the game. For example if one uses a mechanic, or action, then the player will expect a dynamic or reaction by the game. 
 Dynamics create aesthetic experiences as noted below. Leblanc encourages game designers to produce models or tables that predict and describe gameplay dynamics to avoid common design pitfalls.
  • Time pressure and opponent play creates challenge.
  • Sharing information or winning conditions that are difficult to solo creates fellowship.
  • Encouraging players to leave their mark, use systems for purchasing, build, earn game items, construct, change levels or worlds, and personalize creates expression.
  • Rising tension, a release, and dénouement dynamics create dramatic tension. 

"The desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when [he or] she interacts with the game system."
The emotion a player has when they play the game is important, without an emotional response from the player the game ceases to interest or be "fun" to them. How can game designers describe aesthetics instead of "fun"? We can use hot or key words - proposed by Leblanc:
  • Sensation: sense of pleasure
  • Fantasy: make-believe
  • Narrative: drama
  • Challenge: obstacles
  • Fellowship: social framework
  • Discovery: uncharted territory
  • Expression: self-discovery, achievement
  • Submission: pastimes, time sink
These hot words are not limited as Leblanc states, as long as we do not use vague words such as "fun" and "gameplay" we can accurately describe games by their aesthetics. Examples of games that create these aesthetic experiences:
  • Left 4 Dead: Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Sensation (via horror).
  • Settlers: Narrative, Discovery, Expression, Submission.
  • Draughts: Challenge, Submission, Sensation.
  • S4 League: Sensation, Challenge, Fellowship, Expression

Other notes on MDA: 
Hunicke informs the audience that games should have different types of AI according to age groups or target audience but are not as easy to add to games because game developers have to consider the effects on system behavior and player experience (Hunicke, R. 2004).

First Pass:  
  • Aimed at 3-7 year old 
  • Emotive characters
  • Aesthetics should highlight Exploration, Discovery and Expression
  • Simple game mechanics: manual interaction, hard-coded paths/maps, simple dialogue
  • Game logic: immersion or moving and viewing
  • Simple AI 

Second Pass: 
  • Aimed at 7-12 year old
  • Time pressure mechanics
  • More challenging than expressive
  • Some narrative
  • Dynamics: Track, interact, more characters
  • Mechanics: More choice, non-static paths, character attributes (or levels/skills).

Third Pass:
  • 14-36 year old
  • Advanced AI
  • Aesthetic goals expanded: fantasy, challenge, border of submission
  • Plot: Intrigue, suspense
  • Enemy AI: Coordinated activity
  • Characters: less emotional expression
  • Mechanics: expansive tech and skill trees, variety of enemy unit types, and levels/areas with variable ranges of mobility, and field of view.
  • Dynamics: earn/buy weapons, develop tactics, techniques, deceptive behavior, evasion, and escape.
 These are not definite, just examples of what each pass could contain.
 The MDA stresses to create models that predict game dynamics and aesthetics to avoid common design pitfalls.
Designers must meet a common ground with their players, to empathise with the players' experience, by refining the components and reiterating their game according to how their game will be played when it is out of their hands.

 I agree with Leblanc, games have unpredictable consumption but when he states that games consumption are unpredictable compared to other types of entertainment (books, music, movies, and plays), I found myself disagreeing with him. It doesn't matter what type the entertainment is, either way the audience or players will decide, whatever the type of "food" or product, if its good for them or not.

Creators involved in other types of entertainment have a process of creating their product so that the products' consumption is not as unpredictable. A movie made in Hollywood doesn't necessarily mean it will be a success, it depends on the process and the method used to produce the film. Other types of entertainment - as game designers use framework tools like MDA to check and refine their product -  obviously use tools and processes to produce their product.

On Leblanc's other note, games are more like artifacts than media, I do strongly agree with. Games are interactive systems not film - films stream visuals and sound  that audiences have no control over - and players create their own story via the game system. In some cases, games offer choices on the story, others reach the border between film and game because the game has linear interaction that eventually lead the player to the end of the narrative.
Games have crossed borders between different medias - for example between cinema/film and gaming - so I think in the future we will see games merge in to other types of media and entertainment. The rise of the internet caused the emergence of online gaming, games that can be played on the internet with or without other players (MMO, MO etc).

I found the Mechanics and Aesthetics easier to understand compared to Dynamics, some game features I get confused if I should put them in to mechanics or dynamics. Leblanc could have just simplified his description of dynamics as the expected reactions of a game.

The prediction models make sense, if we want to make quality games that players enjoy we should get feedback on their experiences, how else are game designers supposed to know what dynamics worked and if their game reached the desired emotional impact.

The AI component described has some good points, such as to think who the target audience is for the game and what designers can do to match the players expections or difficulty. It seemed clear, as the age range rises, the more advanced and complex a game has to be to hold the players' interest.

MDA applied to my group project Time Merc
Time Merc is a top-down shooter, the player has to battle and survive on a map against hordes of enemies. The game offers various weapons and transformations. The narrative is about a time cop who has to chase his nemesis off to the past to correct it. In a short summary, Runov (the antagonist) incidentally manages to stop the asteroid from killing the dinosaurs so Merc (the protagonist) has to eradicate the dinosaurs to correct the past in turn saving the future. There will be other levels according to where in the past the Time Merc travels to.

  • Weapons
  • Map
  • Drops (health, boosts, shields etc)
  • Transformations (buggy, tank, helicopter)
  • Enemies

  • Rising tension: hordes of enemies and surviving
  • Time pressure:surviving being killed by the enemies and timed missions
  • Winning conditions: eradicating enemies or completing mission objectives
  • Dénouement: cutscenes, dialogue and storyline
  • Solo play to show independence and alienation.
  • Ability to shoot enemy 
  • Ability to move on the map 
  • Weapon upgrades 
  • Cutscenes as comics to show story
  • Character Dialogue

  • Narrative achieved by the comic cut-scenes and dialogue in-game
  • Challenge created by survival
  • Sensation achieved by the comedic tone and animations (e.g enemy combustion)
  • Narrative
We have kept the game as simple as possible so we can build on it later, the game's design is realistic to what we think we can produce at the first sprint.

Hunicke, R. 2004. "AI Babysitter Elective". Lecture at Game Developers Conference Game Tuning Workshop, 2004. In LeBlanc et al., 2004a. Available online at: 
LeBlanc, M., ed. 2004a. "Game Design and Tuning Workshop Materials", Game Developers Conference 2004.

 Available online at: 
LeBlanc, M. 2004b. "Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design." Lecture at Northwestern University, April 2004. Available online at: 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

FADT? (Formal Abstract Design Tools)

Formal Abstract Design Tools is an article and framework, by Doug Church, to create a vocabulary and process of designing a game. The design vocabulary can be used to dissect a game in to its components so that game designers can understand them and "realize our own game vision" (p. 1).

Church observes and dissects Mario 64 to notify the reader of the "tools" used in the game. (
p. 4)

Intention: Making an implementable plan of one's own creation in response to the current situation in the game world and one's understanding of the game play options.
Applying this to Mario 64, Church found that Mario's world made players feel connected to it by their actions and the simplicity of the game.

Perceivable Consequence: A clear reaction from the game world to the action of the player.

Church states that, in Mario 64, "any action you undertake results in direct, visible feedback"; this tool can be applied in modern games hence players can interact and get a result from a said game.
He adds to this by saying "Because of X, Y has happened". (p. 5)

Some games, like RPGs, - as Church highlights - are less direct about some consequences, making the game unfair to the player by creating unpredictable results when a player is presented with a choice or action. Game designers must seek to balance fairness with perceivable consequence, if a game is too predictable it can be too easy for the player.

Story: The narrative thread, whether designer-driven or player-driven, that binds events together and drivers the player forward toward completion of the game.
(p. 5)

Story can apply to any game, whether it be the experience of creating a copy of a Kirby statue in Minecraft or the linear story of FFXIII. In most cases stories do end and some stories are built by experiences by the player, ending when the player wants it to.

Why have FADT?

FADT enables game designers to critcally analyse games, not from their opinion on whether they like the game or not,  but on what makes the game work to the client, to the customer or target audience; basically what makes a game fun and compatible for the intended player.(p.1-3) These tools are also not all of them, there are many more as Church states, "
We will have to invest a lot of time if we're to generate a full list of tools we've used (or should use) in our work".
My thoughts on the article

I found the tools useful for game design, although the introduction I thought was too long, his profile says to skip to page 3 if the introduction was slow reading, then to go back and read it. I do recommend reading the introduction even if you find the wall of text intimidating, his point of creating a framework and vocabulary for game designers to use when describing games is very important else we would not be able to accurately pinpoint the mechanics that work in games. I think if we have a good understanding of the tools used in games then we will try to emulate the balance of merging these tools to make a game work properly for the player - using the design tools: intention, perceivable consequence and story - and to create better or just as good games to that standard. 

Church, as did Greg Costikyan, in turn, paved the foundations for a game design vocabulary by insisting and creating their own frameworks for others to use, modify and grow. As games advance in complexity, in my opinion, game designers must understand and build on these foundations, by forming their own views, and changing or using the vocabulary; if they want to delve in to the modern era of game design and to simply discuss games from a game designer's perspective, not as a game player.


Church, D. (1999) FADT. Internet: Gamasutra.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Agon, Alea, Ilinx, & Mimicry

Agon, Alea, Illinx, and Mimicry are four distinct forms of game types proposed by Caillois(Newman, Videogames, London, p. 22-26), influenced by Huizinga. These four forms of game play can be combined and are not restricted to one genre or the other.

Agon: Competition.

Alea: Chance or randomness.

Ilinx: Movement.

Mimicry: Simulation, role-play, fantasy.

Here are some examples of videogames that use some of these terms.

Tekken (image courtesy of

Game type elements
: Agon (competition between players or versus npc) and Ilinx (character movement to dodge or gain advantage).

Dead Island

Game type elements
: Mimicry (science fiction but realistic characters), Alea (chance of encountaring a horde of zombies and finding supplies/weapons), and Ilinx (Survival crucial to movement of character).

Tron game

Game type elements: Ilinx (movement of line to destroy other player and to survive).

From Dust

Game type elements: Mimicry (make-believe world), and Ilinx (ability to manipulate the player's surroundings). The outcome of the game is Ludus, the player has ability to move things and problem solve.