I've recently graduated from Boston University's MS Media Ventures (http://bit.ly/J6x9Aj) program, and I'm on a quest to find my dream job in game design. My strengths and most relevant experience are in UI & UX, feature design, writing, and customer research. I also have a background in animation from undergrad and some experience with 3D modeling, which I'm working on improving in my free time.
I blog about what I'm playing and what I'm making, plus thoughts on the industry and anything else I think my fellow Dtoiders will find interesting.
I got a little obsessive over building fortresses the past few days. This is what happens when I have neither class nor work. I play god with ASCII dwarves.
In my last post I talked about similarities between Dwarf Fortress and Dark souls in that they both have steep learning curves to get going. After reading comments, discussing with the boyfriend, and some more time invested in each, I've realized they're two distinct types of hard to get into. That's another subject that deserves its own post.
A few years ago, I went to a panel at ConnectiCon called "Losing Should Be Fun," run by Rym and Scott of GeekNights. One of the first games they mentioned was DF, which they introduced with "In Dwarf Fortress, you're always going to lose." The DF community uses the word fun as a synonym for losing your fort (or a portion of it) to disaster.
At first, I wasn't having a whole lot of fun. I built a couple fortresses, and either got bored or got destroyed by a random megabeast before I'd even explored much of the game (I thought those were supposed to be a later game thing!).
Then something new happened.
I turned on my dwarves.
There was a megabeast on the prowl. I gave my dwarves all the instructions they needed to lock themselves safely up in their fortress until they could get a proper attack ready. The fortress was nicely self sufficient and could easily stay locked up indefinitely. Or at least until everyone got cave adaptation. Should be long enough.
So what did my dwarves do? Nothing. They were all too depressed from the friends they'd lost so far. Frustrated with their uselessness, I let the beast in. I proceeded to draft every remaining dwarf into my military and ordered them to attack, then sat back and watched as, one by one, they rushed to their doom. After a long a bloody fight, they took down the beast. Only three survived.
For those who have played Dark Souls, you will understand why (after being shot off buttresses in Anor Londo about three thousand times) I have decided to take a break from the main game and simply engage in Jolly Cooperation for a few days. Co-op is all well and good if you're summoned in a reasonable amount of time. Some areas have amusing distractions, like repeatedly burning the slimes outside the Depths bonfire in an attempt to beat my own best time, or farming green titanite in Blighttown, but even that gets old. What's a girl to do while waiting to be summoned?
Enter Dwarf Fortress.
Dwarf Fortress is a game I've known about for a long time, watched other people play, and been somewhat intrigued by, but had never tried for myself. As part of investigation of worldbuilding and simulation games, my boyfriend had pulled up DF a few days ago, and I started spending my wait time chatting with him about his dwarves. An idea emerged: I could play DF between summons! I drop my summon sign in Dark Souls, put down the controller, pick up my laptop and build that fortress. Perfect.
I quickly noticed an interesting similarity: both games have steep learning curves that have driven off more than a few potential players. Starting out goes something like this:
Your buddy has been raving about this game, and encourages you to check it out. Said buddy tosses in a warning or two that it can be frustrating at times, but assures you it's worth it. You start playing and immediately fail at life. At this point, you might push through, you might abandon the game forever, or you might be like me and abandon it for a day (or longer) before being overcome with a powerful need to figure it out and show that game who's boss.
Both games have extensive fan-made wikis detailing how to survive and strategies for nearly every situation, active and enthusiastic fan communities, and little to no in-game guidance for newbies. This is vastly different from the classic level design of Super Mario Bros, where a new player quickly learns all the basics for survival without any need for a tutorial.
The necessity to learn how to play without any help from the game itself turns a lot of people off from Dark Souls and Dwarf Fortress. They both have a lot more complexity than the original Super Mario Bros, making that kind of integrated "tutorial" more difficult, but surely it can still be done.
What are your favorite integrated tutorials in recent video games? What are the worst?
How on earth do you build in lessons on playing something like Dwarf Fortress or Dark Souls without patronizing the player?
The absurd difficulty of getting into these games creates a sense of camaraderie among fans, which might be lessened with too much in-game help. Are they fine as they are?
This month I've got some free time on my hands between semesters, and I've decided to put this to the best use: learning as much as I can about as many games as I can, on as many platforms as I can get access to.
Why am I doing this? Aside from the excuse to play games all day and call it research (bonus!), I'm playing catch-up on years of little gaming time. As an undergrad, I barely had time for gaming--some Plants vs. Zombies and Soul Calibur fight nights here and there, sure, but most new titles were filed away to play "later." I emerged with a sense of vertigo, looking back over all the games I'd been meaning to play. It was 2010, and I'd never played Portal. Something was wrong.
See, it's not just that I'm a gamer who'd been missing out on her game time. I'm working in the game industry. It was at my internship this past term that I realized how behind I'd become. There I was, making art for an iPad game with a planned Kinect port... and I'd never played an XBOX game, much less one using Kinect.
The Plan All month, I'm diving into games I've heard are particularly innovative, engaging, or otherwise noteworthy. I'm tracking my notes and observations on these games here, on my CBlog. I'll be delighted to hear recommendations on what to play next, and your thoughts on the games I write up.
Simultaneously, I'm submitting internship applications for the summer semester. This means I'm keeping up with all the job postings, news, and industry trends I can get my eyes on. Hopefully this will lead to interesting insights as I compare current goings on with what I'm gleaning through play.
The third part of my plan is R&D on my thesis project, which is (big surprise!) also a game. I'll blog about updates on that end as well, and would absolutely positively magnificently LOVE feedback from the community on it.
Stay tuned for reviews, insights, and musings on game design. I'll be updating as often as I get the chance all this month. I hope you'll enjoy the series!