LampTree Applications – Gobias Coffee

This was the name we choose for our business start up. The company was called LampTree Applications and our initial product was named Gobias Coffee, this was a reference to an old episode of “Arrested Development“,.

The application is a concept for coffee shops to use android tablets for menus, that customers would have access to. The customer would be able to order straight from the tablet and the coffee shop would have the ability to customise the app to display their own logos and special offers/promotions being able to advertise different promotions or change the menus at the click of a button. This was partially inspired from the following video

The unique selling point was the ability to introduce social games that the customers could challenge each other offering discounts or promotions to who ever becomes the champion of a game, Chessmaster, Scrabble King or Lord of Catan for example. The idea being that this would instill a sense of community into the shops customer base as well as giving them reason to spend more time in the shop.  The ability to also include subscriptions to digital papers and other publications also allows the coffee shop to offer their customers reading material while they enjoy a lunch or coffee.

The Presentation is available here

and the document can be viewed here

I took on the mantel of group leader and as well as coming up with the original  idea that was later refined by the group. Therefor fleshing out what the benefits and unique aspects of the product were also became part of my tasks.

The other Member of the group were;

Max whose focus was on finding out possible competitors and similar products already in the market.

Luke who did research into our potential customers and their clientele

and William who did a lot of work on the financial projections for the project.

Can Video Games Be Art?

I may be biased on this topic as I think that video games should be classed as a type of Art. Now it is not that I think every game deserves to be displayed in a museum but that it is a very creative endeavour and developers should be granted some recognition.

The traditional forms of art would be seen to be Painting, Sculpture, Writing and Music. Film is now also classed as an art form but it wasn’t initially and it took many decades before any film was created for purely artistic reasons.

The writing of music and lyrics has been recognised as Art for centuries however not every singer/songwriter is a master, there is a world of difference between Beethoven and Justin Beeber for example. Both types of music require some kind of skill and creativity and can be classed as art even though one is given much greater respect then the other.

The same can be said for games. One way that games get some recognition is when their component parts are analyzed independently so that the Graphical Design of the art assets, the story of the game and the music used in game are all separated and awarded differently however like a film a game needs to be looked at as a whole,

– Why was this graphical style adopted? What does it add to the game?

– Why is this music track played here and at what volume? What emotions is this expected to generate in the player?

– Is the story important to the game or is it just tagged on to demonstrate gameplay, does it have meaning, does it affect the player?

But then that is where the Classificatory dispute stems from whether the video game as a whole is a form of art.

The key difference between games and other types of art is the interactivity they offer, you can interpret what a given painting means, you can project your own ideas onto a sculpture but you cannot change them. When reading a novel you cannot change what is written on the last page by the way you read it, nor can you get the outcome that you would like by watching the film more carefully. So maybe video games can be classed as a type of Interactive Art.

The Question this then leads to is What Is Art? This answers the question with Art is Form and Content.

Form means:

  • The elements of art,
  • the principles of design and
  • the actual, physical materials that the artist has used.

Content is idea-based and means:

  • What the artist meant to portray,
  • what the artist actually did portray and
  • how we react, as individuals, to both the intended and actual messages.

All of these can be applied to games but yet video game still have no classification as Art. It is possible that the field is still too new and that until those who decide “what can be called art and what is not” are gamers themselves or have a deeper knowledge of the creation of them that video games will not ever be art. Roger Ebert, a professional Film Critic, has gone on record claiming that video games are not art, but then he is also a prime example of why it may take more time before video game will be recognized as an art form as he is quoted as saying “But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art.”(because of the need of player choices and interaction) as well as saying he “will never play a game when there is a good book to be read or a good movie to be watched.”.

So as I said it may take time before video games can achieve the stature of art.

Games and War, Unchanging Face of War

One of my favorite video game series “Fallout” begins each game with the lines “War….. War never changes”

Can the same be said for the actual war games we play?

If we begin with the tabletop miniatures that were popular in certain circles before the rise of computers(and still are I assume, warhammer for example) These were turn based strategy that had a large amount of rules that the players had to learn to even begin to play the game and then players would need to spend more time learning the different units, when to use them and what overall strategies work best with a given army. And then you have all the extra requirements of an actual field of war or terrain to battle on, the different types of tape measures, distance measuring paraphernalia and dice.

This was brought into the video game format as the  “Turn Based Strategy” genre. The major change was the removal of many of the rules as the game handles the majority of that “under the hood” so to speak. You no longer needed to roll to see if your unit hit or use a ruler to figure out the splash damage of a mortar. It also removed the need for a second player as you could now play against an AI. Example of this would be the Civilization series of games and more recently the new Xcom – Enemy Unknown are example of this genre.

The turn based type of strategy game remained a popular genre but with advancement in technology a splinter genre developed this was the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre. This removed the turn based element entirely so players acted simultaneously, creating newer challenges and demanding different skills from players. Example of this are the “Age of Empires” series and the “Starcraft” series. Starcraft is interesting for another reason as it was one of the first games that actually has “professional” players. Teams of player whose career is just to play these games in tournaments and get sponsored like regular sports stars. All for their ability to play at war.

The is also a great difference in how war is portrayed across different genres of games, for example the “Fallout” series has always been class as an RPG first and is set in a post war era, where the wars of the previous generations warmongering have left the landscape a desolate wasteland, where any kind of civilisation is rare.

The “Age of Empires” series which we have mentioned is an RTS game. This allows you to begin your own civilization beginning from the Stone Age. However you cannot ignore your military as armed conflict over resources and space is inevitable so war is never far from your doorstep.

The FPS(First Person Shooter) genre contains the majority of the games set during war.  The “Medal of Honour” series had a number of games set in historical wars (WWI & WWII), and included a fantastic opening scene similar to the film “Saving Private Ryan“. While the “Call of Duty” series has had a number of games based loosely around more modern conflicts. The issue that comes up with these games is how violent they can get with each sequel changing to become more violent then  the previous due to increased graphical power, but the actual game-play almost unchanged. Noticeable example of this would be the “Soldier of Fortune” series and the recent release of  “Chivalry”, this is similar to the FPS games with a noticeable lack of guns as it is focused on medieval combat but is much more violent because of it, these games show very graphic decapitations and dismemberment with the only innovative change in the genre is Chivalry’s setting in medieval Europe creating a much more melee combat focused game.

Where will the future of War Games take us? Probably back to the same conflicts again but with even more detail with the major changes in how different genres approach the idea. The oddest situation I found was when the players of “Eve Online” (an MMO) declared war on the actual creators of the game when they implemented a number of changes and introduced micro transactions to the game.

CCP Apology

Games and Learning. What do games teach us?

When I think of games and learning together the first images that spring to my mind are old games that I remember playing in primary school, games such as “Granny’s Garden” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego“. Not the most interesting games and what players learn form them is questionable. The fact that in recent years I can ‘t think of many game titles with a focus on learning is more a demonstration of the failure of such games to make any commercial success.

Of the few I have played myself the following I believe to have had the most useful and lasting effect.

The Typing of the Dead

This one is created in the style of an FPS (First Person Shooter) where you must type what is written on the zombie to kill them. This can range from one small word to multiple sentences. The game was fun to play and even offer a multiplayer aspect. But more importantly it improved the speed of my typing and also my spelling somewhat. I think it’s success is due to how it used what already existed in a given genre and instead of just pressing one button to shoot/kill the zombies you have to input a combination of keys, actually increasing the challenge while still maintaining the fun, tapping into flow theory.
Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?

The first in a series that is still going strong with new installment to be released on the WiiU console in the next few months. NOt truely a game that teaches you something but one that improves your ability to learn (or so it claims). Nintendo has been careful not to claim the game has been scientifically validated, however stating that it is an “entertainment product ‘inspired’ by Kawashima’s work in the neurosciences.” The games uses mathematical, logic and word puzzles in various mini games in an effort to increase the activity in different parts of the brain. Along with a large collection of Sudoku puzzles it offers plenty of entertainment. This is another key aspect that even though this game is actively getting you to do “work” with maths and language based games, they are designed well enough that you have fun doing it.

Scribblenauts and Scribblenauts Unlimited

These are relatively new games, and their existence creates a feeling of hope that games can be created and designed to be games while also giving a meaningful benefit to the player.

They are a type of puzzler where the player can use his creativity to solve the puzzles. In the game you character is equipped with a magical notebook that when an object is written into it it is created or it can be used to apply an adjective onto an existing object. An example task would be

A person you meet is trying to get past an angry dog. they ask for your help.

– You can solve the task by entering “bone” into the notebook, creating a bone that you can give to the dog making it passive.

– You can remove the angry adjective from the dog and replace it with friendly, allowing the person to pass.

– You can Give the person wings so they can fly over the dog.

– You could create a “postman” which would draw the attention of the dog free the other person to walk past.

This is just one example and it is all animated with colourful 2D art design giving immediate feed back on the actions you take allowing you to see how effective they were or not. Through playing the game the user not only improves their ability with language but also critical thinking.

There is a lot that can be learned from existing games, games that were not designed to be anything but commercial products to provide enjoyment.

For example in a recent article, featured on Kotaku, a young medical student, Harry Lee, talks about how he use the experience he had from playing Pokémon and applied it to his Pharmacology class. “I thought, if I can remember 150 Pokémon and all their movesets and evolutions and stuff, surely I can memorise the names of drugs in the same way,”. So he made a game to do just that.

Setting up a guild in World of Warcraft is a pretty simple process but for that that guild to survive and grow the leader needs to develop or use all the social and organisational skills at his/her disposal and then when leading a raid there is a need for leadership and management skills.

In games such as “Age of Empires” and the “Total War” series, there is a huge amount of historically accurate data to be learned just from playing the game and reading the little notes and details of the units you can absorb a great deal of information.

The key aspect across all of these is to develop a game that is first and foremost a game, designed from the bottom up to be fun and enjoyable and if there is some educational aspect then all the better. You do not want to cause the “Bart Simpson Effect” where the educational aspect of the game is obviously forced and too blatant.

 

Short Animation to display FolioFourOne Concept

One of the Assignments for the module Multimedia Industry Perspectives, this year (2012) pair up groups of students with incubation companies in Nexus. Paul Twomey and myself were paired up with ConceptWorX. After a short meeting we had decided that given the time-frame and our desire to show some kind of finished piece at the end something like a simple animation that showcased the company’s product would be pretty feasible. Neither of us are animators or have much experience with such software so we also saw this as an opportunity to increase our skill base while getting the assignment completed.

One of the main requirements was that the animation be HTML5 compatible and run in all modern browsers. The two main options we looked at were Flash and and newer product from Adobe called Edge. This product created simple animations using css/javascript/jquery and saved to a html page. It was HTML5 compliant and is currently free to use. However it is still in early development and there are quite a few issues with regards to lack of features and bugs. But as it met our requirements and was the less expensive option we went with Edge.

And here is our “almost” finished animation.

FolioFourOneIntro

Chopper Command

This is a somewhat earlier build of the game we entered into the “XNA Game Studio Ireland Challenge” for Games Fleadh 2012. We enter again as the same group from the previous year and this time around our game received the “Best in Original Digital Art” award. We were all a bit more familiar with version 4.0 this time around so that was not an issue for us this time.

The main challenge this time was our locations. Each of us was on Cooperative Education placement in different parts of the country and we had to use tools such as skype video calls and email conversation as well as a source control application. This caused an increase in the development time that we had not accounted for. This was due mainly to the lag in communication as we couldn’t just walk over to someones monitor and discuss some issue between the group and come up with a solution. For those kind of problems we would have had to phone or email or just wait until the next meeting over skype.

From the previous game we were able to implement a proper arcade style scoring system(one of the goals i had imposed on myself after the missed opportunity the previous year). Unlike the Previous year we moved away from the classic game( Activisions Chopper Command) and made a similar looking game but brought in many more Tower Defense elements through the items and abilities options. The goal remained the same but your options had increased significantly.

One issue I had with the final game was the complexity of it and that we had not properly balanced some of the items and the overall difficulty. In future i will try to add some kind of tutorial if a game gets as complex.

Frogger The Gods Revenge

This was created for the “XNA Game Studio Ireland Challenge” during the Games Fleadh 2011. It was the classic game of Frogger that was being honored this year.  It was another Group project and we managed to get the award for “Best Windows 7 Game”.

Shortly before this the new version of XNA (4.0) was released so the first challenge was getting to grips with the changes between this version and the previous one of which up to this point all our experience was on. Thankfully it was more about adding support for Windows Phone rather the removing or replacing existing functionality, the one are that had some effect on our game was the changes made to how data was serialized and we were unable to implement a proper high-scoring system as we didn’t solve this issue in time.

This project was outside of the college course so myself and the two others in the group spent the majority of a midterm making it. The time constraint was the biggest challenge of this project.

One of the better aspects of this project was the amount of design we did before we ever began coding the game. Because of this we were able to make a very well balanced game while at the same time making each level unique while still maintaining a similar play mechanic.

Round One Fight! Ludology vs. Narratology

One of the more interesting articles I read on this subject is by Gonzalo Frasca. It is from near the beginning of the Ludology versus Narratology “debate” as can be seen from the depth he goes into to describe what a Ludology should be. However it is also one of the reasons why the debate exists.

It is entitled “Ludology Meets Narratology” which already seems like some kind of confrontation before a fight. It’s goal is claimed to be a demonstration of how basic Ludology concepts could be used ALONG with Narratology to better understand video games, however as the debate is still continuing as to which is the best approach, instead of the newer discipline learning what it can from the existing discipline, I believe that this goal was not achieved.

Others have described the differing factions better then I could.

“This disagreement has been called the ludology vs. narratology debates. The narratological view is that games should be understood as novel forms of narrative and can thus be studied using theories of narrative” (Murray, 1997; Atkins, 2003).

“The ludological position is that games should be understood on their own terms. …….. In other words, the focus of game studies should be on the rules of a game, not on the representational elements which are only incidental” (Aarseth, 2001; Eskelinen, 2001; Eskelinen, 2004).

Another way of putting it would be that games should be studied for their story (Narratology) or that games should be studied as games (Ludology).

My own take on this is slightly different as I don’t see where the main conflict between the two areas arises. The Ludology perspective makes a good deal of sense, games should be looked at on their own terms. They are a different medium from film, they are not simply music nor can they be classed as interactive books. Just like you would not study a song for the music alone and ignore the meaning behind the lyrics or you would look at a movie the same way you would a book. Games have to be looked at as games but most if not all game also contain a narrative element, therefore should Ludology not also encompass all that narratology is when studying games?

Even if you look at one of the most abstract games “Tetris“, where is the story here? Well as humans we are inclined to place a story on it anyway so to some it may be a representation of the old Soviet state, no matter how well you build it up the game(system) destroys it. But even aside from that a basic narrative can be found in the games rules,

Blocks fall ——- Connections from left to right disappear ———– Build too high and you fail.

And for game that focus mainly on the story, “Dear Esther” and “The Walking Dead” for example. It may be the story that drives you along but if you don’t “play the game” and abide by the rules you will not get to fully enjoy the story and how these game mechanics affect the story are very important to the study of such games.

Will there ever be a Round Two? Once both sides see that they have been hitting themselves it maybe that the debate will end.