About randomness, narrative, and humor in video games

This is a topic I find myself thinking about very often. So often that I though I would end up having a saying on it. But as with humor in general goes, it gets difficult to state anything that sounds precise and comprehensible enough.

But since the topic keeps on fascinating me again and again, I ended up deciding to conclude this contemplative stage by gathering a few random comments on the topic of… randomness and humor!

The mystery, the way it goes for me is:

  • What makes randomness funny? 

So probability has been there for ages, and video games make use of it in sophisticated ways. In this post, though, since much has been said about that topic already (and since I couldn’t say much about it anyway), I’ll focus on the role randomness plays on narrative, and how it impacts emotions.

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5 UX lessons that can be learned from newspapers

So I’m reading Don’t make me think, a common sense approach to web usability (written by Steve Krug). And I’m amazed when I see the writer takes examples from classical written news design to illustrate usability rules that are relevant on today’s digital world. I was surprised mostly because I studied many of them about six years ago, on my Journalism degree, when the discipline was still figuring out how to make a solid theoretical basis out of the app ecosystem.

Back then I didn’t have a smart phone yet, and stained my fingers on newspapers ink on a daily basis, because that’s what everyone else did, and it felt like the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it comes out as a pleasant surprise that much of the stuff we learned back then I’m able to apply on my content creation and game design work. (Of course, many others don’t apply anymore, but my selective memory already got rid of that.)

So this post is a kind of homage to the perpetuity of (some of the) Knowledge, and to those 7a.m. visits to the news-stand of my student years. And to bring some airs of modernity, each comes along with a couple of examples from games and apps.  

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Little Nightmares and its narrative formulas for discomfort

I have mixed feelings towards Little Nightmares, because as a player, I don’t treasure the moments of extreme frustration, even if the outcome of overcoming the challenge seems to be promising. As game designers, our goal is to entertain, so flirting with negative emotions and responses is always a risk.

However, the way I see it, it’s the way designers deal with strong emotions what makes this game so memorable. And it’s not just about designing puzzles that are difficult to overcome, but also about the pacing, the variations and echoes that surround those puzzles.

There are many great mechanics and small details that left an imprint on me, but I’ll  just try to scratch the surface with some of the ones I found more meaningful on a narrative level.

Anticipation

Every good torturer knows the potential psychological impact of tuning up the torture tool set in front of the victim even before the party starts.

In Little Nightmares, we some times get open shots between chapters where we see a distant blurry silhouette not explicitly harming.

Anticipation has always been a recurrent resource in horror films, so for example, you’ll always get the typical build up music that climaxes on an epic scare that usually ends up being just a false alarm.

An interesting variation I found very effective in Little Nightmares is that even though the silhouettes are so far away, and you’re safe at that moment, the emotional impact is enormous. I think the potential relies on the fact that you always see those shapes heading towards the same direction as you, so there’s an implied promise that the threat doesn’t care about now. It knows it will get you eventually.

Peaks and valleys

The way I see it, it’s that friction between security and danger where the emotional appeal come from in this game.

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What I learned developing my first video game with Construct

Source: www.scirra.com

I was recommended Construct about a year ago by a fellow programmer. He assured me that I, as a Game Designer without an extensive programming knowledge, would be capable of using it to build my own prototypes and indie projects by myself.

After further research I discovered the engine had actually been around for years, so I decided to get the free demo and start learning how to use it while developing a small indie project I could add to my portfolio, a browser-based project Lost Stuff. And last month I finally released my project!

It’s been a long way since I started, but I’ve learned a lot. If you’re thinking about learning how to work with this engine, or if you already are and are looking for some tips, I  hope you enjoy my review.

Cool things about Construct 2

So many hours staring at this interface…

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Thomas was Alone, or how I ended up empathizing with plain pastel-colored geometric shapes

On these Attention War days, where everything’s eye-candied and stunning visuals try to stand out in the noise, Thomas was Alone comes as a rarity.

This is definitely not one of those games that sells itself on the screenshots:

And don’t misunderstand me. I find the art direction of this game to be quite sophisticated in its simplicity, but its visuals, including both environments and characters, rely the appeal of the experience on abstraction.

What is the game about?

It’s actually… about whatever you want it to be!

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What is a comedy videogame?

The question, in all its bare simplicity, occurred to me yesterday as somebody listed their favorite comedy video games. They were all Lucas Arts titles and other graphic adventures of the time that stand up for the sense of humor put into dialogues, characters, and plots. So far, so good. I personally love the surreal sense of humor and the visual style of those video games, so I understand why they have become a benchmark.

Best comedy game… ever?

However… the truth is, with the time, after seeing how the speech ends up focusing almost exclusively on Lucas Arts, I begin to feel a little bit of resentment. Does that mean that, in the last decades, we haven’t had other video games that have approached humor in brilliant and creative ways?

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What’s so joyful about Hidden Folks

I was instantly inspired and delighted when I saw Hidden Folks for the first time.

It took place like a “boy/girl falls in love with boy/girl” scene, where you just see him/her at the other side of the room at a party (or Gamescom indie booth in this case), and you instantly realize you’re just meant for each other.

You do what’s possible to get the contact details to stay in touch (or these amazing promo cards), and then you start hoping you’ll cross paths again soon.

Gamescom-Hidden-Folks

That’s the power of love, my friends. At least,the power of game designer/game love.

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2016

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About my 2016:

A few things in Spanish. In July I launched the first chapter of The Time-Space Travels of Little Sallie Dustfield. I’ve written a lot and I’ve drawn a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more fond of any other of my characters. I hope I can publish the next two chapters of the trilogy in 2017.

I also hope I find a couple of gaps next year to publish two projects that are actually 90% done. My plan had been to publish them on 2016, but at least I was able to give them a good boost. Since I’m working a lot more on games and interactive storytelling lately, and much less on plain old prose, there will be some in English too!

The truth is that I have barely written any fiction on 2016, at least compared to previous years. In November 2015 I started working full-time as a game designer, and since then I’ve tried to educate myself and explore other ways to tell stories. Bad part is my prose is less agile, and some times I find myself forgetting basic stuff I would have given for granted before. But doing more varied stuff feels good too, and I can always go back and catch up again. :D

Anyway, since I work full-time on video games, I’ve learned quite a little bit about many things as staging, script writing, and also, I have drawn a lot!

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