That’s right! another year has passed, and it’s been so intense that I haven’t updated this in exactly a year. I have to say pretty much the same things I did last year, and I built a playlist too.
Without further introduction, The Playlist! See you next year!
P.S.: When I do write, I usually write here.
I was planning to do a postmortem like last year, and to make some resolutions too, but I just don’t feel like it. This was a good year, not as good as the previous one but that’s not fault of this particular year or its events. I learned a lot, I managed to meet some of my resolutions, some others not, unexpected events came out and sometimes I was able to seize the moment for them, but always at a reasonable rhythm.
So I’ll just leave here a sort of a playlist of the key music I’ve been listening this year, or that is somehow attached to a milestone or highlight. With no further introduction, the playlist!
Fito Paez – Mariposa Technicolor
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – Arde Buenos Aires
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – The Golden Age
Mick Jagger – Sweet Thing
Soda Stereo Unplugged – Pasos
Morrisey – I’m Not Sorry
Björk – Alarm Call
Foo Fighters – Weenie Beenie
Incubus – Anna-Molly
Madonna – American Pie
Moby – Run On
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Minor Thing
Rush – Hope
Soda Stereo, Último Concierto – Lo Que Sangra
Yoko Kanno & Emily Curtis – What’s It For
The Smashing Pumpkins – Cherub Rock
The Smashing Pumpkins – Here Is No Why
See you next year! Let’s do as if the world ends in this one .
When I was in third grade I belonged to a little group of kids called “Kid Journalists”, in which we crafted weekly articles on Saturday morning to post them on a big canvas on a wall somewhere at my elementary school. I say “craft” because usually the images weren’t photos but pictures drawn by the journalists themselves .
And I learned something great. Our teacher leading the group taught us that every news article must answer six elemental questions: What?, Who? When? Where? How? & Why?. As I grew up it never ceased to amaze me that even high profile news articles or clips don’t answer all of them. I mean, is almost like a checklist isn’t it? How hard it can be?
But what’s truly even more great is that those questions can be wielded by anyone on different situations to wrap their heads around anything they want to handle effectively.
Let’s take, for a example, a job interview. The applicant has the job description and research about the company done while preparing the interview. Usually job descriptions include responsibilities, skills and qualifications and some company context. Those should cover about the job for the applicant questions What and Where, even When probably if a starting date or urgency is stated. But it would probably not cover well Who, How and Why. So reasonable questions to bring up to the interview are “Who will I work with?”, “Which methodologies, procedures and logistics are implemented to work at this job”, and more importantly, “What’s the big picture of this job?”, “Why are we doing this and how can I align my efforts to accomplish that high level goal?”.
In the other hand, the interviewer has a CV and/or a Cover letter. That should cover, about the matter of filling that job post, at least Who, What and Where, but in the interview questions When, How and Why must be addressed. So the job applicant should at least expect questions like “When can you start?”, “How do you handle conflict? pressure? delegation? peer collaboration?”, “Why do you want to work with us?”.
The key is to be able to see which things intuitively each party is trying to grasp and frame the six elemental questions for those things accordingly.
Let’s take another example. Ever been trapped in a difficult decision? That question is usually a really big “What should I do!?”. Well, let’s find it out! Difficult decisions are hard because it’s not easy to relate all things involved in the decision and weigh the trade offs involved, specially when that decision must be communicated to several parties. Let’s assume you’re handling the issue of whether to cut off a particular feature for your game or not.
What?: To cut or not to cut.
Who: In this case, who are the people involved? Your team? the publisher? external contractors? a client? Define each party involved and which goals each one of them is pursuing in this decision.
When: Do you have a ticking clock behind you? Do you have unlimited time? Does it depend on other sub decisions? Does a party have a power to frame and constrain the time for the decision?
Where: Sometimes there’s no sense of “physical place”, but there is indeed some sort of “topology” and a sense of where. Are we cutting this feature on all of our games? on all the platforms? on all the countries? on this stage of development?
How: Will it be easy to cut it off? How much do we “pay” to cut it? Will it break something else? Are there contract liabilities? How much work will each party on their different time frames will need to do?
Why: Why are we doing this? Are these reasons valid on all the times and places we can take this decision? Are all parties aware of these reasons? How do each one of them weigh in all the reasons?
For any particular example, some questions will be covered quickly and other will be the tough ones. But almost all the time, difficult decisions are different people, looking for different things, with different times, at different places with different methods and with different purposes. So with the Six Elemental Questions™ you just can find out about all of those and be fully aware of What to do!.
What’s generally regarded as one of the biggest advantages of developing social games, meaning that they run on a social network like environment, is that you can measure whatever you like. Thus, the design challenges shouldn’t be that hard because: “just try a few options, measure, and then keep what sticks”.
It’s not like you can learn to design games at the players experience expense, but to learn how to please them even more with an already carefully designed game.
So designing a social game before launch requires a good balance of game design and good practices, and the knowledge that you’ll actually have game metrics and live feedback afterwards. Some principles to have in mind when discussing features and several design related issues are discussed below.
Design for multiple styles of play. You may have a niche audience, or a very broad one, but given your game’s setting and core mechanics, and the whole experience it can bring based on its platform, different styles of play can co-exist, and you don’t know yet which one will serve the game best. For example, some players will try to optimize the use of resources of your game, other might just enjoy expressing themselves through it, others will brag heavily to their friends about their achievements, etc. Try to think of the several things players might enjoy at a high level view and keep them in mind when design changes might affect the balance among them. You don’t necessarily have to satisfy all play styles at once all the time, but be aware of the trade-offs involved in your decisions, so you can allow players to feel a variety of ways to enjoy your game, and then adjust and balance them better.
Design for social. Without entering in the whole “these games aren’t really social” debate, this is just to remind you that usually these games are best enjoyed with friends, and while these games often have in-game mechanisms to allow players to help each other, to compete, to cooperate, there’s usually something more to it. Consider your players asking themselves: “If my friends know I play this game, what it will say about me?” Usually your players’ peers are not necessarily game developers or gamers, which means your art style, characters, jokes, and all the details you design to surprise and delight your players might be your most powerful viral tools. It will all depend on how your players define their social experiences, and not how social experiences should be bounded within a game.
Design to scale. Sometimes your features are awesome, giving strong ties among players with lots of rewards that make them feel unique and special. But when you ask yourself, “What if 10, 100, 1000, 10000 players are doing this?” all those benefits seem to disappear, or they’re still there but your content pipeline or tech specs won’t support your idea beyond a limited number of players. Your features and design decisions should be independent of the number of players that experience them, and hopefully also independent on how heavily they play them.
Design to expand. You might have a cool idea, and then you come up with improvements, and then more, and more, and more. Conversely, you might have a clever twist for a mechanic, but it somehow breaks the balance with the other ones, and you can’t possibly find ways to expand that idea. When your players approach your game, they will come with lots of expectations from other social games, “traditional” games, or other applications, and they will also have expectations about “what feels natural” regarding your setting, and you must address those expectations in the way you teach your players your core mechanics. But once they have learned these basics, and if you want to keep them engaged for some more time, you’ll need to surprise them, to challenge their new knowledge, and add more subtle complexities to your mechanics. So don’t give it all away at the beginning — you’ll overwhelm your players. Save some stuff for later and surprise them.
Design to measure. This one might seem rather obvious, but it’s not. You’ll want the maximum amount of information from the minimum set of data streams of your game. When designing without considering this goal, you might see later on social media networks and forums that people like your new features, and it will definitely feel like it, but remember to not forget your silent majority for the vocal minority. If some content twist is enjoyable, figure out an special way to “frame it” within your game in a way it can be measured, and hopefully useful to provide data for several things to measure. Just don’t assume that because it’s not a number, you can’t figure out a way to measure your players engagement with it. Unless, of course, you’re afraid your unmeasurable quirks are not that funny .
Design for asynchronous play. A key aspect of social games is that they embed in players lives, not the other way around. This is why “crops” and all their friends are so popular, these are appointments players make with the game allowing them to plan their schedule to play it, and not feel overwhelmed by having to actually be at an specific time playing it. Usually multiplayer-like ideas require synchronous play, but that might just seem to hard to achieve in these games, that are already loaded with the expectation of asynchronous play. Try decoupling the synchronicity of your ideas by keeping a high level view of that multiplayer experience and figuring out a way to make it asynchronous, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t feel natural — players’ suspension of disbelief in these games will make up for it .
Design for long term. If your background and experience with games focuses on single player games for consoles or PC, it’s usually easy to come up with ideas that work for those kinds of titles, but they often don’t make sense within a social game. For example, you might want to create a whole story arc that has players unravel a mystery within your game, but once they solve it, it just becomes a story in the past. What if players come to play afterwards? Will they enjoy the mystery knowing the answer before playing? It’s not that you can’t possibly add such things to your game — do it, but just on a small scale to surprise and delight your current players. Don’t let future players feel like they’ve lost everything you have to offer.
In summary, these are just some useful ways I have learned to frame design decisions balancing the tension before launch, giving you enough flexibility to have a carefully crafted experience that gives you freedom later to adjust the game smoothly for your dedicated player base.
Then I started to follow game developers, some fun people, peers from my university, among others. Sometime around the second semester of 2010, the amazing community manager of the IGDA, @CertainlySocial, Â started to run the #gamejobs hashtag, and he has been running it quite professionally.
So I obviously kept a column on my twitter client, Tweetdeck, with the hashtag to look for opportunities. This was close to the time I was looking to take a leap to a job outside my home country.Â I did all my “homework”, with tasks such as having an updated Linked In profile, my own website, and engaging with several game developers online and offline in Chile, while watching for opportunities published on twitter and many other websites.
Until one day, I saw a tweet by @hilanneg, looking for people to work on social games. After exchanging a few messages and being truly open and honest about my background and aspirations, she arranged a meeting with people at an emerging company, Vostu. The first interview couldn’t be done because of conflicting agendas, and a second one was scheduled, but that one failed too. Then, after @hilanneg casted a “third time is a charm” spell, we finally had the interview!
Vostu has its HQ in New York, with offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. So the conversation was to explore the possibility of working at the Buenos Aires office, which was the easiest way to get all the paperwork done smoothly. After the first interview, I had a second one, and then after a few quick negotiations, an offer was made and I accepted it!, now I’m Senior Game Analyst-Designer at Vostu .
The whole process until acceptance took around 10 days in the middle of December. After that, it’s been a storm of things to do: closing my projects and duties in Chile, arranging things to move to Argentina, moving, etc. Upon my arrival I started to work immediately on the latest company game and after almost three months that passed faster than I’d like to believe, we’re live! The game is Megacity, a city building game for Orkut, designed specifically for Brazil.
And this actually happened. It works!. I don’t have enough words to thank Brenda for encouraging game developers to join twitter, Ryan for taming the wild world of social media to run #gamejobs, Hilary for connecting me with my current employers, and the people at @vostu for receiving me with open arms, helping me to relocate and to bring my best to my current job.
Thank you, to all of you, again. Yours truly, Raul .
A couple of people I follow on twitter have shared games that have played or that they want to play, and it inspired me to think about what games I’d like to play this year, and also, given that I enjoy reading so much, what books I want to read.
Quick overview of the games I played on 2010. In italic the good ones, -like this- the bad ones.
* Wii: Mario Kart Wii, Phoenix Wright, World of Goo, Donkey Kong Country Returns.
* Nintendo DS: My French Tutor, My Japanese Tutor, Warioware D.Y.I.
* Online: Critter Island, Ravenwood Fair.
* iPhone: We City, We Rule, We Farm, Miny Tycoon Casino, Maple Story Thief Edition, -Sonic 4-, -Silent Words Zero-, Flock it!, Angry Birds, Cut the rope, Fruit Ninja, Doodle Jump, Trainyard, Plants vs Zombies, -Epic Win-, Carcassone, Infinity Blade, Freaking Inkies, Risk, Mirror’s Edge, Hook World, Canabalt, Robot Unicorn Attack, Game Dev Story.
So basically, it was a year of discovery of Mario Kart Wii’s “end gameplay”, by online play, and a whole new platform, the iPhone. I had a great time thinking about game balancing issues and the design and production challenges for a smartphone with touch interface.
Now, I hope to go deep on social games, on iPhone, Facebook and Orkut, such as:Â FarmVille, CityVille, FrontierVille, Mafia Wars, Zynga Poker, Restaurant City, Gangster City, Poker Rivals, Social City, Bola, Mobsters, Mini Fazenda, Cafe Mania, Pet Mania, Vostu Poker and Rede do Crime. I’ll be entering the social games design game, so I’ll probably be playing these for a mix of pleasure and work.
Also, I’d like to learn more about current trends in AAA video games development. So probably I’ll be getting a PS3 or Xbox 360 or PC, because I want to, at least get familiar with: Left 4 Dead (both 1 and 2), Batman: Arkham Asylum, Little Big Planet (1 and 2), Bio Shock (1 and 2), Assassin’s Creed, God of War (all of them) and some racing games (arcade and sim).
Finally, I want to be part of the Starcraft II experience . Specially since many friends are waiting for me!
Regarding books, last year I read a lot of stuff online, but almost nothing on paper. The only thing I can remember having finished is “Survivor“, by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s a great novel, an amazing ride. But this year I want to commit myself finishing at leastÂ the following books: Challenger for Game Designers, The Art of Game Design and 1491. I’ll be learning aboutÂ Gamification, and because of that I’ll read:Â Game Based Marketing andÂ Reality is Broken.Â For entertainment, I hope to read as much as I can from the Harry Potter series, I’ve just read the first one, and this year the final movie is coming up!
As a bonus track: I’d like to dream about what music, movies, mangas, animes, comics and theatre plays I’ll be enjoying, but I’ll keep them as a discovery process . I have all my friends always pushing me great recommendations on these fronts so it shouldn’t be a problem getting familiar with good ones here.
Let’s hope I can keep my resolutions this year and enjoy all of this stuff!
And you? What are you going to play and/or read?
It was a very intense year. Yesterday I had a small flashback to the past and felt like a very long time ago, but it was just one year. I’ve been thinking about writing about the last year in retrospective, and here it is, in a video game postmortem fashion.
What went wrong
* We had a massive earthquake. How can I not mention this? It was one of the biggest ones, and even though it had little effect for me, it set out the mood and political ambience for all the things we lived throughout the year in Chile: The Rebuild efforts, New Government, The San Jose Miners Accident and their rescue, among many, many others.
* The Rebuild Chile game was a failure. This deserves a postmortem on its own, but essentially, Chilean game developers gathered to create a video game to collect funds to be donated to children affected by the earthquake. It took us more time than expected, we worried too much about unimportant things, we worried too little about important ones, and we put a lot of effort on the game, but almost nothing on the campaign, unlike the guys from The Humble Indie Bundle.
* I wasn’t able to keep a healthy working/resting routine. By the first semester, I worked and slept properly, but didn’t managed to eat and exercise right. The second semester, I got it wrong on the former and improved the latter. I need to get both of them right. Nevertheless, on some parts it was a conscious tradeoff on being diversified, but since it’s been years trusting my body will handle all of my pressures, I need to stop.
* I couldn’t keep all of my resolutions. One of them was the previous statement. And maybe I had too many of them, while trying to bee diversified . But since we constantly do too much stuff on our lives, the goals for a new year should be a few attainable ones, to have the chance to meet all of our expectations. Besides, as I read somewhere, maybe the focus on many resolutions should be more about not doing, and doing less, in order to keep it simple and do better on the things you actually do.
* I was way too diversified. I was simply just too much, maybe. I started very focused on my first goal for last year, but as soon as I felt the light at the end of the tunnel, I started to get involved and networked as much as I could with other entrepreneurs, chilean game developers, marketing and social media folks, trying to get a glimpse of the future I was trying to build for me. And it got out of hands sometimes, making me lose focus and rest, among other things.
What went right
* I was way too diversified. As I said, it was a tradeoff. I met, online and offline, a lot of amazing people, I learned so much about a lot of stuff, and I got to be part of several cool projects, such as Eye tracking data visualization, Online community design, Emergencies support system software and video games .
* I finished my degrees. In Chile we have the usual four year degree and two additional years for a masters like degree, called “tÃtulo profesional”, allowing you to be considered a respected member of society. Seriously, Chile is a very elitist society. Not that we have too much stuff to be elitist about, though. Since I’ve been working for a long time, and given that it was a double masters-like degree, it was a though goal to accomplish, but it finally happened . Â Here are some people/organizations I want to say “Thank you” for this. Coming soon, video version.
* I started this website. I wanted to do it since a long time ago, to have my own virtual space, to write, to think and share, etc. And I finally did it.
* I got to travel and enjoyed amazing concerts. I took vacations (pictures), got an adventure traveling to CopiapÃ³, and also visited Buenos Aires, among other short trips in Chile to places such as La Serena, ViÃ±a del Mar, QuilpuÃ© and Rancagua. Also, I was at the Faith No More’s farewell concert, and the Stone Temple Pilots show in Santiago. I missed Rush because of the Copiapo adventure though, but I don’t regret my decision.
* I got a new job. While being diversified, I took an aggressive approach to video games job hunting all over the world, since I wanted deeply to take my career to a global level. This was certainly an endeavor that also deserves its own postmortem, but just when I was about to lay down my arms, a new opportunity came out, and now I’m moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to pursue this opportunity and bring my best to it. Also, there is a remote internship I’ll share more about in the future . So expect to see a lot more about game design this year on this blog.
So this is it. Adding it all up, it was a good year for me and I have a clear path to improve. Finally, I’d like to say thank you to all the people I’ve been sharing experiences last year. Many of them won’t even read this, and I try to make sure to remind them constantly how much I appreciate them. Nevertheless, here’s a quick list of some of them:
* My friends: All members of Cantina 434, Oscar, Cris, Gus, Monu, N, Felipe and Nacho. My fellow/partners DBL, JF, JD andÂ Alchemist.Â My friendsÂ Psicohistoria, Tatiana, Dany, Amaru, Felipe, The Amazon, Andres, Alex, Daidolais, Z, Chava, Marco, EdoÂ and Dany.
* Some Twitter folks, such as the ones that make me laugh. The ones I had the chance to work with or learn from: @uri_cl, @dondalvo, @agustinvillena, Â @alzahler, @valdunga, @AndreaObaid, @Rosental, @earriagada, @ericries, @alexpuig, @penelopetrunk, @tferriss, @dcancel, @thebrandbuilder, @RobertoA, @CarolinaMillan, @kemeny_x, @themaria, @sebarod andÂ @gzicherm.
* Special mention to these great video games industry people, thank you! I’ve learned so much with you: @CertainlySocial, @avantgame, @jesseschell, @stephentotilo, @cuppy, @leighalexander, @NicoleLazzaro, @IanSchreiber, @JamesPortnow, @bbrathwaite, @raphkoster, @hilanneg and @ClickNothing.
Happy new year !
EVA is the “Encuentro de Videojuegos Argentinos”, like GDC, but in Argentina. It’s held annually in Buenos Aires, and this year I had the chance to participate .
The date was December 10th and 11th, and the first day started very early for me because I was flying from my home in Santiago to Buenos Aires, and in order to be there early, I had to catch the first flight of the day.
Once we got to the Panamericano Hotel, the place of the conference, I got into the round table about Argentinean video games, where several people were talking about ways to bring global scale to the Argentinean video games industry.
There were lots of companies booths, with interesting technologies developed by themselves, showing their games, their products or recruiting people.
After lunch, I had a break to leave my luggage in my hotel and then I went to two interesting talks, the first one was by Alejandro Luna, from Sabarasa, who told us their experience applying the lessons learned from the book: Agile Game Development With Scrum. Among the challenges discussed was to define the roles in a video game development environment, and how to extend the methodology beyond software development, including game design, among other practical details, such as emphasis on prototyping.
Next, Sebastian Enrique, from Electronic Arts Canada, gave a motivational talk about how to develop your career in the video games industry. Sebastian shared us his experience since his time at college, and how he was identifying and taking several opportunities to reach a job working on one of the most relevant video games franchises: FIFA.
The second day, I started attending to Marina Calducci’s talk, also from Sabarasa, about “Archetypal characters in video games”. She talked about Heroes, Villain, allies, enemies, the Wise man and the Maiden. Very enjoyable and clear talk about how to instantiate these characters in the different elements of a video game.
Then, we continued with “Survival Kit for Managers” by Paul Depre, from Globant. From his experiences as a Game Producer, he shared us 10 key ideas to survive:
* To be able to quickly respond to problems
* To know the product and the competition
* To know the boundaries
* To get lessons -good and bad- from the past
* To earn the client’s trust
* Protect your team from the fire
* Avoid crunch if there are no reasons
* To establish a team spirit from day 1.
* To acknowledge merit
* Common sense and confidence!
During the afternoon, there were other talks and booth visits, including the presentation given by the social games publisher 6waves, the past and present of animation systems by Pablo Toscano, from Ubisoft, and a postmortem of the design of FIFA’s “Be a Goalkeeper” mode, by Sebastian Enrique.
It was a very busy afternoon and then I had to leave to the Airport to go back home. Next, some pictures:
There were more interesting talks but these were the ones I attended. Happy Holidays !
I love how the proper tools and software allow me to get done everything I need, and I love to share this knowledge with others and improve the way I do stuff. So here are my picks for software and tools currently. I use Mac OS X, several web apps and an iPhone, so I arranged the apps with links on the following image with handy tooltips for descriptions.
In Wakoopa my current profile looks like this:
What tools/software do you currently use?
All of the sudden, a friend of mine asked me “Are you available to work as a translator for a Japanese correspondent in Copiapo?”. And I said “Yes, of course” .
Because of the miners rescue a Japanese correspondent came to Chile but she had an accident, and to make sure everything was ok another correspondent came to Chile, and I was in charge of translating for him and help both of them to go back to their homes knowing they had no pending issuesÂ left behind.
And it was a very rewarding experience. We were there from October 15th to 19th, running a lot of errands and paperwork, but everything was resolved very well. Additionally another Japanese correspondent came to Chile, but since I was full time working with Yoshitomi san, I asked a friend, Daniela, to join the adventure, and both of us had the chance to visit the mining site.
Since I spent so much time with Japanese people, what amazed me the most were all the details of cultural contrast I felt:
- All Japanese people seem way more younger than they are: I was wrong on my estimates for almost 25%.
- It’s true, they’re very polite: And concerned about other people. It was very refreshing and comfortable to work that way, and the business cards exchanging was always great to experience.
- They mix together wasabi and soy sauce when eating sushi: That’s really bad news for sushi hipsters, since the people I saw doing it were actually Japanese. UPDATE: depends on the ingredients, from Yoshitomi’s words:
When you go to very decent or authentic sushi restaurants you may expect the grated wasabi radish as wasabi.
Unfortunately most sushi restaurants, especially in foreign countries, serve wasabi which was made from the kneaded wasabi powder with water as we ate in the restaurant in Copiapo.
When I eat the grated wasabi I tend not to mix it with soy sauce because the good wasabi flavor could be lessened.
- They work thoroughly: whether they’re reporting, taking pictures, solving problems or anything, they put a lot of dedication to their work.
- They truly enjoy good meals: And were constantly surprised about our dishes, portion sizes and flavors.
- They’re fun and caring: they show real interest in other people’s cultures and lifestyles and they’re great for having conversations on any topic and having a good laugh.
They’re were also surprised about some of our stuff:
- The food.
- The fact that in Chile people insist on giving erroneous information. .
- The fact that, although the previous one, everyone seemed to want to help us. A lot. That was trulyÂ chilean affection for the stranger.
- How much I knew about Japan. Yoshitomi san even excused himself for not having heard of Kanno Yoko.(that’s ok! I don’t know too much about Violeta Parra either!)
- The fact that I can silence dogs using spells. Well, anyone can be surprised for that one.
I also had the chance to have lunch with the other correspondent and Daniela, but the cultural impact was different because he already knew a lot of Chile and it wasn’t his first time in the country. He was looking for empanadas but we couldn’t find good ones.
Thanks for the adventure! Hope to see you again, some day, somewhere .