Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: June 2009

Twitter in Iran Update

The death of Michael Jackson is affecting twitter performance, and by extension, making it more difficult for Iranians to use the tool. Perhaps Ahmenijad should start poisoning pop stars until he regains control.

That’s okay. Twitter’s inventor never intended it to be useful.


Bad Sony Mojo

The world’s largest game publisher is asking publically why they’re making games for the Playstation 3.

Of course, this just gives me an excuse to link this Sony-related Onion video.


Content Exists to be Consumed

From the comments in the Algorithmic thread:

The problem I have with most games is the constant expansion of land as the game grows old and a reluctance to remove/revamp content even when the company’s own stats tell them that no one is using it.

Eventually, all games get pear-shaped, with the majority of players at the top and much fewer as you go back to the beginning. And yet, the six/eight/whatever starting areas that were needed in the beginning are now six/eight/whatever nearly empty areas that the company now wants people to skip (evidenced by the increase in exp gain to hurry them along to “the real game”).

The ‘hollow world’ phenomenon has existed as long as there has been MUDs with level systems. The issue is two-fold:

  • The further you get from launch, the fewer newbies you have running around, which especially means that group content at lower levels gets harder and harder to find people for.
  • As the game ages, it tends to expand on the upper end, because well, you want to make content for the people who are actually out of it.

End result: it’s a lot harder to find people who want to run level 20 dungeons like Deadmines four to five years after launch, because the odds of you finding a tank, a healer and 2 other DPS before you level past it really isn’t all that good anymore. My heretical notion, though, is that this is not necessarily a bad thing – or if so, a relatively minor one.

Another example of the Hollow World syndrome is Molten Core. An early raid from the WoW experience, it was created and balanced for level 60 characters. I, personally, will never see Molten Core the way it was originally seen – as a difficult, challenging teamwork requiring enterprise, and I wish that I could. The flip side of it, of course, is that the people who WERE there for Molten Core would really rather prefer never set foot in the place again. Which is, incidentally, how I feel about Black Temple – dude, we spent like 9 months in that place. The LAST thing I want is for some well-meaning designer to incentivize my guild revisiting the place. Nostalgia steamroll runs are fine, thank you.

On top of this, the designers want to, in general, keep most players in the same ‘content band’. Even as the game expands, you generally want to keep people, en masse, needing to go to the same places, in order to increase the odds that groups will form and keep the recruiting pool full. And it’s not just raiding – World PvP is more fun when people are shepherded into the expansion zones. 2+ person quests (such as WoW elite quests and WAR’s public quests) requires a certain critical mass in the zone before they can even be accomplished. Player density, for the most part, is good – and far better a goal to strive for than ‘old content never dies’.

Because at the end of the day, the thing about content is that it gets old and busted. Quests that were once amusing and interesting get far less so the third or fourth time you do them. Exploring a zone is much more interesting when it is a new place seen with virgin eyes. And raid encounters are essentially puzzle fights – and once the puzzle is solved, that content becomes increasingly less interesting very quickly.

Game SYSTEMS, hopefully, remain fresh and survive reputation (as most PvP scenarios do). Game CONTENT, on the other hand, doesn’t survive the repitition as well. In the end, MMO teams have limited resources. They can use to either fix up or close off old zones, or to build all new one, and accelerate the pace players can get there. Given the problems with game content repetition, I would say the latter is almost always better.

Are there exceptions? Sure – fixing the levelling path, salvaging content that was utterly unused, or destroying a single city for plot reasons come to mind. But even then, it should be used sparingly.


Original comments thread is here.


I’ve been somewhat called to task for my random musings about Twitter and Iran, which I thought were rather muted, personally. Hell, as a recent signup for twitter, i find it mostly annoying, with far too many people apparently eager to flood out useful information with the news that they had corn flakes for breakfast. Continue reading

Useful Links

For those looking to fill their RSS feed with game design commentary updated more than once a month, you might find this list helpful.

Also, I’ve recently gotten a couple ‘how to get into the game industry’ queries. A good place for people with these kinds of questions to start is my own Breaking In page.

Tactical Transparency

A version of this article first appeared in the June/July 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine.


A lot of explanations have been given for the explosion of poker in the early part of this decade.  Factors cited have included in the rise of online poker, the surprise victory of amateur Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series of Poker, the success of the movie Rounders, and even the NHL lockout which left ESPN scrambling for cheap content to show in winter months.  I’d like to propose one additional reason: the rise of a superior form of poker.

For decades, when you saw a game of poker being played in a movie, what you saw being played was probably five-card draw – all players are dealt a hand, may replace some cards in a single draw, and then reveal, with opportunities to bid along the way.  The dirty secret of five-card draw is that it’s not a very good strategy game.  Players have little information to base their strategy on – their own hand, how many cards their opponents draw, and how nervous their opponents seem.  Draw poker is entirely about bluffing and luck.  This makes for classic cinema, but from a gameplay perspective, it’s hardcore and fairly unsatisfying to play.

But that’s not what they play on ESPN2 at 2 AM.  As poker exploded, Texas Hold’em was the game of choice.  In Texas Hold’em, all players must make a five-card hand out of two cards they have privately (their ‘hole’ cards) and five others that everyone shares.  Suddenly, you have very good information about what your opponents can do – three-fifths of their final hand is on the table, after all.  The odds of victory and defeat become a math problem instead of one of pure luck.

Bluffing is still important, but it isn’t the dominant path to victory.  Strategy is – and this strategy is created by the amount of information given to the player.  As game designers, we must understand that the level of information that we give players affects how strategic or tactical our games are. Continue reading

Shared Experiences vs. Algorithmic Content

Every now and then, I see someone whose idea of the perfect MMO is one that works like real life. Where all of the experiences they encounter in an MMO are unique, created via algorithmic content or by a game system such as a virtual ecology. One thing I see come up a lot is that, when you kill the Red Dragon Above the Village with your guild, then by golly, he should stay dead. You should not be able to kill him next week. Another guild should not be able to kill him 15 minutes later. He’s dead.

Realism is one cited reason. Realism is the wellspring for about half the bad game ideas in the universe. Fun should always trump realism, so lets put that aside. Continue reading

How Important is Twitter?

Obama’s one action during the Iranian crisis so far is to have the State Department ask Twitter to delay planned maintenance.

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Over the weekend, there’s been what tentatively appears to be a stolen election in Iran, followed by protests with estimates of six or seven figures. Sadly, the news networks pretty much ignored the story (at least, up until the New York Times criticized them for doing so).

Top coverage of the event in America, it turns out, has come from the bloggers: Andrew Sullivan on the left, and Hugh Hewitt on the right being good examples (and normally these two are at each other’s throats). Without the bloggers, the issue would be almost invisible to us here in the west. Continue reading

SW:TOR Movies

Honestly, I had little to do with this bit of awesomeness: the SW:TOR E3 Cinematic Trailer.

I do, however, make an appearance in this here developer’s diary.

But really, go watch the trailer.


Original comments thread is here.


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