Formative Feedback

I have decided to devote a page of my blog to reflect on my formative feedback. I feel like my progress so far has been really good and I’ve managed to complete two prototypes already. I’m hopeful to create another soon, but before I start to come up with more ideas, I want to reflect on the feedback I’ve received.

Adam agreed that my progress has been good and that I’m slightly ahead of where I need to be. He stressed the need for me to keep up my momentum which I’m hopeful I will be able to do. I’ve noticed that I find the most inspiration for my work when I’m creating things and learning about a subject which I find interesting. I also find that when I have a good idea, I want to get it developed as soon as possible. I think I need to keep coming up with decent ideas otherwise my motivation might decline. My previous two ideas for prototypes came about quite organically during the end phases of my research. I don’t have the idea for my next prototype yet, but during my next idea creation phase, I’m going to reference my research so that I can continue in this trend. Adam also suggested that this would be a good way forward so I feel confident it’s the correct approach.


Brand

Another suggestion was that I look into contemporary branding. After showing my initial logo design for the project, Adam wasn’t too impressed. However, he liked the name, just not the logo. Branding isn’t something I’m really familiar with, although I have created logos before. However, I’m sure branding isn’t just about logo design so I want to learn a bit more. Adam linked to a chapter from Communication Design: Insights from the Creative Industries by Derek Yates and Jessie Price. I decided to read the chapter and hopefully learn a bit more.

“The 21st-century business seeks to communicate an air of open humanity. It seeks trust by talking in a language that is relaxed, informal, and inclusive, but at the same time wants to bring its products and services to life as powerful, emotion-driven embodiments of desire.”

“Designers need to work with code as much as they work with typography.”

“In this studio we believe that timeless things matter, we are not interested in throwaway. We do not believe in transience. Things matter more when they are constructed correctly and with meaning.” – Mason Wells, co-founder of Bibliothèque

I found Bibliothèque’s work on the Ollo logo really interesting. I quite like the idea of creating a logo that is interactable in some way. This might be something to consider for Sleep Clear.

“The success of a piece of communication has always been dependent on a connection between content, form, audience, and context—what the message is, who it’s aimed at, what it looks like, and how and where it’s communicated.”

It might be a good idea to think about these four things when I revisit my logo.

“there is an honor in going for perfection. This is inherent in the characters within our studio. There is a sense of wanting to get something right and being prepared to stay until it is.” – Mat Heinl, CEO of Moving Brands

I quite like this dogged approach, not releasing something which is half-baked appeals to me.

“Moving Brands defines the success of a project by how “correct” it is to what a client is trying to achieve. This idea of correctness is not just about function, satisfaction, or service—it’s also about feeling right for the brand, i.e., its character, attitude, and principles.”

“The logic of corporate identity arranges visual elements within a system of specifications and guidelines that aim to provide consistent reproduction across different media. Branding is more human and aims to communicate complex attitudes or values through a series of coherently designed touch points.”

“It doesn’t leech off of culture. Rather it finds early nascent examples such as extreme sports culture and seeks to develop this culture collaboratively. It does this in a sympathetic and nurturing way so that the members of that culture align themselves with the brand.” – Adrian Ho, founding partner of Zeus Jones describing Red Bull as a “mentor brand”.

“Ideas and artistic justification are one thing, but the emotional response to something doesn’t always work to the same logic.” – Simon Manchipp, founding partner of SomeOne

Simon Manchipp’s ten principles to creating engaging brand communication:

  1. Be coherent, not just consistent.
  2. Create more than a logo.
  3. Brand without badging.
  4. Bring charm to charmless categories.
  5. Create ownable moments.
  6. Remove clients’ fear.
  7. Weird stuff works for brands.
  8. Curate choice.
  9. Create assets, not costs.
  10. Finally, always remember we are not in the design business— we are in the people business.

“Brands are careful not to talk to us in a voice that feels too authoritative and aloof. Instead they strive to appear friendly and humane. To complement this tone, rounded sans serif typography and hand-rendered letterforms are the order of the day.”

I have only been thinking about Sleep Clear’s logo in a digital sense, it might be worthwhile to create a few handwritten versions or something more crafty.

After reading the chapter, I was inspired to create a few more iterations of my logo design to see if I could put into practise some of what I had learned:

I came up with a few more logos, but I don’t really like any of them. I think I will leave the logo design for now and return to it later when I’m feeling more inspired. Although I’m not particularly enamoured with any of them, I think the middle logo is probably the best of the ones I’ve created.


Research Proposals

Phase three of this project culminates in a presentation in which we have to present three game ideas. Adam suggested that my presentation should be structured more like a research proposal. Instead of presenting three game ideas, I need to be thinking more about what form my Final Major Project will take, who it will be targeted towards and what impact I would like it to have.

To help me get sense of what the structure of a research proposal looks like, I did a google search for a few examples. As you would expect, there are countless available. As far as I can see, they are essentially like a project overview, but with more emphasis on research (duh) and finding a problem to solve. I don’t think I will adhere to the structure of a research proposal directly for my presentation, and I think Adam isn’t expecting that either. Instead, I think I will focus of the headings he gave me.

What

Up until now I haven’t really thought in specifics about what my Final Major Project will be. The chances are that I will likely end up creating this project on my own, so keeping things as simple as possible will be essential. So far I have been experimenting with 2D prototypes and trying to discover some interesting mechanics and gameplay ideas which I can then base my FMP around. I know I want to create a mechanically simple game, but one which has intriguing level design. I also want to create an experience which is evocative and has some kind of greater message. I think my prototypes tackle these two things separately. Faded is evocative and Tilted has intriguing design. Essentially, I want to create a combination of these two prototypes.

Who

My game will likely be 2D and quite simple to play. It will also probably be some kind of platformer or adventure game. These are genres that have been around for a long time and have undergone numerous revivals. Games like Cave StoryBraid and Super Meat Boy helped to usher in the renaissance of 2D platformers and also the current glut of them. Older games like Super Mario World have also found new life in Super Mario Maker. The desire to play well crafted 2D games with emotional resonance can be seen with Playdead’s critically acclaimed Limbo and the recently released Inside. While researching the public’s attitude towards the homeless, I found that those who hold the more critical views are the over 40s. We know from the ESA, that the average age of a gamer is 35 years old and that 26% of people who play games are over 50 years old. So there’s every opportunity that the message of my game will reach those who may hold these more critical views.

Impact

Even though I don’t yet have a complete picture of what my FMP will be, I know for certain that I want it to have an impact on those who play it. I think Faded worked well in this regard, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to do it. The story of Faded was perhaps its strongest quality, so I think crafting a story which resonates will be an essential part of my FMP. This story doesn’t necessarily have to be told through character dialogue, it could be a series of silent cutscenes or told through gameplay and environment exploration. One thing I know for certain is that I want to tell a story of homelessness. This doesn’t have to be as direct as Faded, it can be much more subtle. My goal would be to make players think about the lives of others less fortunate than themselves.


Design For Losing

Another suggestion was that I look into games which are designed to be unbeatable. My Titled prototype is an example of this kind of design. Other examples can be seen in quite a few games. The most common approach is to have a section of a level or a boss fight which is designed to be unbeatable. The first time you fight Seath the Scaleless in Dark Souls comes to mind as a good example of this. On your first attempt to fight Seath, you have no way of beating him, he takes no damage and can kill you almost instantly. Once you die, your character gets transported to a jail and has to escape. Once you free yourself, you can fight Seath again and destroy the crystal which makes him immortal, finally allowing you to beat him. I think this is more of a plot driven trope in this instance, but it’s a good example of how mainstream games use unwinnable design.

The abilitease (a portmanteau of Ability and Tease) is another similar trope. This is where the player starts the game with a plethora of abilities, but then loses them very early on. They then spend the rest of the game reacquiring them. The Metroid series and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are good examples of this.

However, the best examples I can think of are in games like Cart Life and Papers, Please. These are games don’t give the player a good and bad choice, they give them a bad and less bad choice. These games stack the cards against the player, making even small choices have a large impact. I think this kind of design is what my FMP will try to emulate.

A classic example of this is Oregon Trail, an educational text adventure in which you have to correctly allocate resources to complete a long and arduous journey.

To find a more in-depth analysis of this design thinking, I found an article from The Computer Games Journal entitled Games You Can’t Win:

“In entertainment games where narratives are often similar to film, there is a class of games where ‘winning’ doesn’t look the way we typically expect it to look. Some games do not allow their players to win, and all possible endings may be bad ones, as in Deus Ex or Shadow of the Colossus. In games like these, the message may be more akin to that found in a cautionary tale. These are examples of games we refer to as ‘games you can’t win’, and they form a distinctly different approach to game design, especially if we are designing a game for learning.”

“In a game you can’t win, what the game teaches is important, but how it gets there is what makes it different.”

“The notion of learning through failure is an important feature of virtually all games, both digital and non-digital. What changes in an unwinnable game is that the failure also occurs as the end.”

The section entitled Unwinnable Games as a Social Message was very appropriate to my project.

“Serious educational games that are unwinnable or unhappy fall under three categories: dichotomy, a call to arms, and ‘‘this could be you’’. Deep learning and an increased understanding of ideas through individual personal experiences creates a strong link between players and these three categories of unwinnable or unhappy games.”

“The total required playtime of an unwinnable game should remain relatively short; the game should ideally be something that can be played (and discussed) in a single class or with a small number of classes.”

“A good story will address wicked problems by setting up the player to discover that there is no easy answer, stage the player for a certain amount of play time, make the player work within parameters to demonstrate particular messages, and create instances of reflection and debriefing during the resolution stages of the game. Successful games, like successful stories, make you think about your own lived experiences.”

Five rules for designing unwinnable games:

  1. Address wicked problems.
  2. Length is important.
  3. Focus on the message.
  4. Build in reflection.
  5. Tell a good story.

Games mentioned in the article:

  • Sweatshop.
  • Darfur is Dying.
  • September 12th.
  • Deus Ex.
  • Shadow of the Colossus.
  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
  • Booze Cruise.
  • Alphabet Soup.
  • Fission Impossible.
  • Spent.
  • America’s Army.
  • Paso a Paso.
  • Ayiti: The Cost of Life.
  • Re-Mission.
  • Real Lives.
  • Third World Farmer.
  • Aleut.
  • Poverty is Not a Game.

I found this article to be very relevant to my project, especially helpful was the games they highlighted. I’m planning to play a few of them to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I also like the five rules of creating an unwinnable game. I think if I follow these rules more closely in future prototypes I’ll be able to create better experiences.


External Partners

Adam’s final suggestion was that I start to think about charities that would be willing to collaborate with me in some way. At the outset of this project, I felt like it would be a good idea to include a donation button at the end of the game. Especially if the game in question is short and impactful like Faded was to some.

Although, before I start to get ahead of myself, I want to get some feedback on Faded from those who work in the homeless charity sector. I compiled a list of Twitter accounts of people currently working for homeless charities and asked politely for some feedback on Faded.

I sent 50 plus tweets to people involved in homeless charities including The Big Issue’s,

Along with the official Twitter accounts of numerous charities including Shelter, Crisis, St. Mungo’s, Centrepoint UK, Depaul UK and their employees including the Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes

Unfortunately, I only got a few replies, but one notable one from Depaul UK who also followed me. They asked me to send them a DM about the project to which they have said they will get back to me ASAP. Here are my responses:

At the moment, no one has responded with any real feedback except Pathway who thought that the game was broken. Not really a productive time, however, I also contacted Games for Change via their google group and asked for some feedback. Thankfully, I received some really good feedback on my Itch.io page from two of their members:

itch-tryanything1ce

itch-mcdangerOverall, I think gathering feedback via Twitter was not the right approach. However, I think if I try to contact those more familiar with games, I would probably get a better response. The best feedback on my prototypes so far has come from people familiar with games. My target audience is gamers, so that is probably a positive sign.

Phase Four: GDD Planning

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