AKA “the world’s longest ‘about’ page” ***
***: Unlikely to be literally true.
“Space Robot” Games?
If you’ve spent a lot of time hunting for the right name, maybe you’re like me: you’ll accept any muse that appears, provided that what it whispers has an available domain name and low search collision.
Here you can see that muse in all its un-cropped glory: a cool retro light-switch cover. I’m not sure where it comes from, though I was able to track the art to a product available here. So if you wanted to make a space robot light switch cover in solidarity or something odd like that, knock yourself out.
And that’s the name.
So what’s your deal?
Simple: I play a lot of games but can’t silence that voice telling me “This would be great if…”, “Wouldn’t it be rad if…?”, or “Ugh – this is so close!”. I decided to throw my proverbial hat in the proverbial ring and see if I can’t maybe make them a, uh, proverbial reality?
Complex: I have a lot of opinions about what makes games good, about how to make games better, and about the underlying principles that a game company should adhere to. Of course, as a nascent company, those opinions are not built on experience running a game company that makes good games. Fortunately, I think my philosophies on making games better also apply to me and the company: skepticism, empiricism, and vision.
Skepticism and Empiricism
I have a strong belief in the principles of the Less Wrong community, particularly as expressed in this quote from the LW front page:
Less Wrong users aim to develop accurate predictive models of the world, and change their mind when they find evidence disconfirming those models, instead of being able to explain anything.
Translated into behavior, this means that I question my vision mercilessly and attempt to use data to break down my expectations. I want my beliefs built on solid evidence, and if the evidence disagrees with me, I’d be thrilled to change! Change means I’ve acquired more information, and by updating my models of whatever it is, I’ll have become better as an individual and as a game designer.
In short, I believe in the power of science, statistics, data, etc. to lead me towards quality decisions. I want player opinions. I want to use data (acquired ethically) to learn what players actually enjoy, and I want to always keep my “design feet” planted firmly on the ground. Skepticism and Empiricism are what I hope will keep me from committing design atrocities for the greater good (the greater good).
Vision is my ability (or lack thereof) to see beyond the data from today to the distant unexplored lands of design. Without vision, I may as well not exist as a studio – I will produce nothing of merit. Actually, vision is literally why I exist, since my vision is to make real what the above-mentioned voices suggest.
Vision as a value is contrary to the skepticism/empiricism pair, but it is also complementary. If you’re familiar with the “explore-exploit” trade-off in many basic learning algorithms, you’ll notice the similarity here. Empiricism is my attempt to exploit what I learn to create great games. Vision is what I use to explore and find new, even better designs.
Game design is a highly contentious field with a lot of different axes of disagreement. I think this is a good place to briefly describe my stances on some of those axes. In no particular order:
Transparency, Because Reasons
As an active gamer myself, I understand that knowing the developer rationale for design decisions can really help make those decisions palatable. I also understand that communicating takes a considerable amount of work for developers. I will try my darnedest to share as much as I can without significantly compromising the game creation process itself, because that’s what I would want if I were my own player.
Using Psychology for Good
The last decade has brought a ton of great progress in understanding mood and happiness psychology, which should mean great things for an industry ostensibly devoted to creating powerful/emotional experiences and enjoyment. Instead, that progress has been used to exploit the parts of the brain that override our ability as players to make good decisions. I think that’s really sad, so I’m going to be vigilant that I’m using it not just neutrally, but for good.
My Love of Qualitative Mechanics
I’m tired of watching experience bars creep up while I grind my way through baddies. I’m bored with clicking nodes on a skill tree to get 1% bonuses to passive skills. I’m so over equipment that increases Strength by XX, yielding Y% more damage. I’m uh… enervated by having to play inventory Tetris yet again. I’m
of spells being recolored over and over.
How many variations on “Fireball” have we each cast in our gaming careers?
Creating truly qualitative game experiences is hard, I get it. It is really really hard. That’s OK: I believe it’s really really worth the effort. I hope you agree.
Procedurally Generated, not Randomly Generated
I’m a minimally-sized (one) (1) studio with big dreams. I simply can’t hand-craft worlds like I want. However, I think that “randomly generated” content has a certain not-wonderful taste to it, and I’d like to get away from that.
That taste is can be expressed in many ways, but a common one is “Worst Architect Ever”: E.g., “Who would build a dungeon like this?” “Why would a town have no main road through it?” “Why are the staircases on opposite sides of the building?”
It’s an awareness that there is no human mind behind what you’re experiencing. It’s this Uncanny Valley-esque feeling that the content is clearly not natural or organic, but it’s also clearly not made by human hands.
Generating content that feels hand-crafted is one of the big problems to tackle in game design right now, so it would be pompous to say I intend to solve something on which a great many developers smarter than I have struggled. I will instead think of it instead as a goal: Where I generate content, I want players to feel intent underneath it.
Artificial Intelligence is Really Fun
I love good AI in games, and I think AI is still a woefully under-utilized toolset in the gaming industry. Though I will remain as pragmatic as possible, I think is a vast, unexplored designscape of fun AI-driven games. I am to incorporate some aspect of AI into as many SRG games as possible.
Value and Monetization, or: How to Help Players Stop Worrying and Love The DLCs/IAPs
I’ll admit it: I want your money. More than that, I need your money to live. But I don’t want it more than I want you to be happy with my products. I don’t want it more than I want you to think warm fuzzy thoughts about Space Robot Games. I don’t want it more than I want you to be happy with what you get in exchange for your money.
So how do I pull that off?
- I design the games so that DLCs/IAPs aren’t needed or expected.
- I design and price DLCs/IAPs so that we over-deliver value.
- Whenever it makes sense, DLCs/IAPs also come with free content for everyone, with or without purchase.
Possibly I’m just a naive/fresh developer, but some developers manage to accomplish this, and I always appreciate it as a player. I think you’ll appreciate it too.
It’s My Playstyle and I’ll X If I Want To
I’m not a playstyle snob. I think one of the best facets of games is their ability to appeal to basically anybody with any lifestyle or interests. Some people play games for the challenge. Some play to pass time. Some play for a mental breather from a stressful day. I think those are all great reasons, and I aim to design my games to work for as many different people as possible.
Designing playstyle-neutral games is no walk in the park, but I think it’s a noble goal.
So that’s me. Hello.
Also I talk/write a lot.