Author Archive

AaKoo goes Game Journalism

January 21, 2008

As GameReactor, the biggest Nordic free game magazine came to Finland, I made the decision to work as a volunteer and trying to experience how it feels like to be “on the popularistic side” of game analysis.

So far, I have realized that it is a hard work to produce an opinion and also mediate it in Finnish. As we are used to play games in English, and I read and write about games at my work primarily in English, Finnish words feels awkward. Try for example translating “gameplay” into something else than “pelattavuus” (playability) with just one word…

So far I have made reviews of Endless Ocean, Bee Movie Game and The Sims 2 Castaway (as a review of High School Musical Making the Cut! for Nintendo DS is for a reason still under construction). I have to say that it is not always that pleasant to find out that the game is boring and yet you have to write a relatively interesting article about it. If only the game would be boring enough to make me feel worth expressing it…

I seem to have some kind of perversion to transfer my love for games into suffering and misery… Ok, fare enough: I enjoyed playing Castaway and to some extent that bee-thingy and ocean-thingy as they had their strengths despite their weird weaknesses. Certainly, I would not have played these games that much without the pressure of writing a review of them. However, only true mistake I made was with the Disney Channel licence game of High School Musical. As dedicated to my deeds, I actually even watched the movie thinking that my limit for tolerating teenager/children movies is much higher than for others. So wrong was I. But I made the commitment, so I suffered my time.

The game itself is nothing truely enjoyable and it is not really about being a DS game with low resolution. We all have seen really good DS games. Game just sucks. Sucking happens particular with some cognitive aspects (for example providing understandable feedback to the player about their actions: somebody needs those design heuristics big time) and as a fan product (heuristics of casual game experiences or instrumental value of play, here). Well, ok, you can remember the songs till the end of times after playing the game. Maybe you are then a happy happy fan with the best game ever. Hard to say – we come in so many shapes and colors. But more about it, hopefully soon, in a review at GameReactor

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Libraries and Games

January 15, 2008

John Kirriemuir gave us a visiting lecture at Tampere at the end of the last November. He had an interesting and, as always, entertaining talk, this time exploring connections between library and games. He made such points as “librarians are cool people too” (he noticed that game researchers are cool folk last spring here in Tampere while giving a speech about his studies at Outer Hebrides). I learned that in U.K. they have cool stuff at libraries such as game evenings for kids. (I also learned that my hometown library lists games as non-fiction and only such titles as Moomins are available.) Nice perspective to games again, John! Check the slides of the presentation from Johns own blog.

John talking about libraries.

Yes, it is a word!

December 10, 2007

Sometimes it can be rather funny to be a (Finnish) researcher. I have used word “ideating” and “ideation” in my presentations about creativity techniques in game design referring to the idea generation processes in general. This makes pretty funny faces in the audience from time to time and it is not rare to hear question: “Is it a real word?”. Even though we as researchers do have the priviledge to come up new and even awkward words suited to our purposes, it is not my invention or not even an adaptation from the Finnish word “ideointi”. This word DO exist outside my head as well.

Serious references could be found in the creativity literature, for example in the article of Maria M. Clapham “The Development of Innovative Ideas Through Creativity Training” from the International Handbook on Innovation (2003, Elsevier), which is actually nice overview of the effects of different creativity training approaches. Clapham says: “A critical component of innovation is idea generation, or ideation“.

More entertaining reference we found at the Future Play 2007 conference. One of the presentations was about prototyping and the presentators made some points on idea phase of game design on the way. There were three of us, Finnish researchers, taking photos of their slides when the word “Ideation” appeared as a title of one slide… Funny. It IS a word for others as well! For what comes to the quality of this presentation, I would not dare to say anything… But at lest we got entertained by one slide. It is a happy discipline, after all!

Ok, it seems that “ideation” is covered, but I am still lacking the coverage for the word “ideating”. For those who are still suspicious, check it for example here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ideating.

Now, I have done it. Stop complaining or I really start to invent my own words.. ;P

Ideation! Ideation again!!

Happy Discipline at Future Play 2007, Toronto

December 4, 2007

After discussing, tossing and turning, analysing, wiriting, preaching and presenting GameSpace views of casual in several different occasions, we finally made it as a paper called “Casual Games Discussion“. The paper was presented at Future Play conference, Toronto, where we also presented a poster on “Creativity Techniques in Game Design”.

The conference itself was quite fine, except for scheduling. There was no proper time slots for discussion and some keynotes were scheduled as “lunch keynotes” (poor Espen, for example). Organiser really did not want us speak to each others and socialise. As some of the “official” supporters (which name I cannot recollect) phrased game studies as a “happy discipline”, I started to think, if we were nonetheless mistaken as “listening discipline” from the “ADHD discipline” that I would find more descriptive…

Our Gamelab was rather well represented: Frans Mäyrä gave a keynote at Saturday, Jaakko Stenros paper presentation about pervasive games on Thursday and me and Janne Paavilainen about casual games on Friday. Because of the schedule (or other possible reasons that we also acknowledge), we did not manage to get any comments. Poster presentation on “Creativity Techniques in Game Design” was much more discussive success. That was my first academical poster (ever) and I enjoyd it much more than the traditional presentations, I have to say. Only thing that I did not got was that posters were not set all through the conference, instead of few hours (after that we had to remove them). I did not even have time to check posters of others.

Ok, I could say more: there is some stuff about karaoke, sushi, Scandinavian bunch backed with one American, sugar, margaritas, brownies, smokey salt, missing a stop on the subway, and couple of things alike. But to keep it short I end this post here and give you some pictorial material (much more you can find with a search word “futureplay2007” at Flickr, check also Jenny Brusk writing about the presentations of the conference).

Me, Alex and Janne (camouflaged) at downtown. Poster “Creativity Techniques in Game Design” 
Jaakko and his pictures. Espen getting deeper to the topic after people finished eating.
Espen and Frans talking about “not that happy” stuff. Jenny, Alex and Jennys student (they won the game price!! Hooray!). They eat, if you did not got it. Jenny and Alex fooling around since there was a funny building. Always a good reason.

NGC 07: Games, Rock and Party!

December 4, 2007

The University of Oulu and Elvi project organised a game conference in Oulu, titled as Northern Game Conference (NGC) last November. The two-day event included presentations from speakers such as Ernest Adams, Chris McDonough, Erik Robertson and Ilari Kuittinen. Speaches emphasising different parts of game development provided interesting take-outs for GameSpace project as well.

The conference was organized in a very professional manner. The stage looked like a talk-show setting and speakers walked in with their own theme music (Isn’t that cool!?). For example, Ernest Adams was introduced with the Hurriganes tune Get on and Tony Manninen with Guns N’ Roses tune Welcome to the jungle. The whole event was also streamed online.

But even more important: the Thursday party was excellent! We were provided with different sets of entertainment including, booze (of course), rock band playing retro game tunes and Pacman performance. This all happened as a private party in a nice and famous Oulu bar called 45 Special. I have to say that I enjoyed the party, the people and the whole event into the extent that I am really looking forward to the next year. Next time, however, i hope to see also broader “Northern” aspect, not only Oulu game industry. Isn’t the whole Finland north enough? 😉

Ernest speaking about interactive storytelling. Again.

Compiling the package for GameSpace idea generation study

December 4, 2007

We initiated our game idea generation study in October by pre-interviewing game designers and alike staff from our industry partner companies. Before the period of travelling between Tampere and Helsinki, interviewing people and presenting the package, I had to finish the final touches on the package. It was important to give the package a touch and feel of a real product to increase the appeal for use and to reduce the threshold for use, so I worked on a coherent visual layout with all the six techniques, instruction book, feedback cards and even the bag itself. The polishing phase took more time than I was expecting and the last piece, the instruction book, was actually delivered to press after staying up from 1pm to 1pm next day. Still a lot of typos and other mistakes were left in the book. One can do only so much.

The Package includes 1001 Game Ideas book, GameSpace feedback cards, materials for five techniques (one technique, Mecano, is only with instructions): VNA, MorF, GameSeekers, GameBoard and PieceBox. Also one commercial technique (Thinkpak) was included into the package.

Check out the contents of the package:

The GameSpace idea generation study package. Including our techniques and one commercial counterpart.

And the introduction slides:

Play New Vancouver ideating

November 30, 2007

In between my Seattle trip, I visited Canada for one day to give a workshop for Play New team at Nokia, Vancouver led by very nice dude, Dan Scott.

Play New team is divided to Vancouver and Espoo, so I started with the same presentation that I gave to Espoo Play New team earlier in September. After the basic info on our techniques, the team was divided into smaller groups and we started to play the GameSpace idea generation games. I got a lot of interesting feedback from Vancouver team and enjoyd the discussion with them, which also gave me some foretaste from the upcoming study of idea generation techniques that we are currently conducting.

Here some pics (mouseover for explanation):

Dan posing while eating lunch. Verbs, Nouns and Adjectives (VNA) in practice. Using “REFINE” card in GameSeekers.

Casual Seattle

November 27, 2007

Since the Mobile Games Seminar in L.A. was cancelled, I spent my September travelling week in Seattle meeting interesting people. My host for the week was Alex Thayer from Microsoft Hardware and I had a chance to give a small speech to their team on Monday. Again, I was preaching about casual in games cultures and giving similar presentation as I did for the Nordic Game audience. Hardware team was eager to discuss about the issue and the presentation hour was rather pleasant for that reason. Later on that day I gave the same presentation to Microsoft Research (hosted by Daniel Pargmanand they recorded and streamed the speech. I hope that someone saw it online, since in the audience I had only two people. Well, the lecture was notified internally rather late, but still: I felt weird almost talking to myself. Later that week I had also brief discussion with Marc Smith from Microsoft Research.

Later that week I also had meeting in downtown with Big Fish Games dudes Nate Webb and Patrick Wylie. We had interesting talk about the casual, even though the lunch time was too short for deeper conversation. I am myself a big fan of Big Fish Games and I wish all the best for their team.

I had a meeting scheduled also with John Vechey from Popcap, but unfortunately I did not manage to get together with him due to changes in the schedule. Fortunately I had a really pleasant conversation and office tour at Microsoft Casual Games division by Kim Pallister who showed interest on my Nordic Game slides earlier this summer. Kim seemed to be well aware of the “casual” on that same perspective that we in GameSpace project and we ended up also sharing some memories of C64 games. He seemed to be very sharp guy. Ok, it seems this feeling is mutual.. 😉

 Here are some pics of the meetings (mouseover for explanations):

Alex and Microsoft mail box. My presentation at Hardware. Seattle and blue beetle.

Me at the Space Needle. Nate and Pat. Nice dudes. Perhaps too little public transportation?

Travel & conferences

November 27, 2007

I have been rather busy with travelling and starting up the idea generation study from the middle of September till now. The craziness ended last Monday when I arrived from Toronto, Future Play 2007 conference where we presented our “Casual Games Discussion” paper and “Creativity Techniques in Game Design” poster. It took me more than a week to recover from the jet-lag. It’s like Japan all over again. Well, some of the jet-lag problems must have been due to the lag of sleep that I gained in Northern Game Conference in Oulu, week before that.

Future Play 2007 conference was actually my second trip to Canada, since in September as I travelled to Seattle and Microsoft, I spent one day over border in Vancouver with Play New team playing our idea generation games.

In between these two I have been completely busy on putting finishing touches to our idea generation package that was sent for GameSpace industry partners. As we delivered the packages, we conducted pre-interviews with Hannamari Saarenpää and Johannes Niemelä and even though we have not have time to analyse the data, I have to say that we are holding a valuable piece of information. 🙂

Game Specificity

September 13, 2007

I gave a presentation for Nokia Play New team last Friday at Espoo about the use of creativity techniques in game design (based on the GameSpace workshop III presentation). The topic is certainly proceeding towards more refined views in my head as the modification of the title may suggest.

The scope of creativity techniques in general is rather wide, as creativity techniques can hold variety of different approaches towards enhancing creative processes. Sometimes it even feels that everything outside deductive or logical thinking is dumped into “creativity” even though these different thinking processes may not have anything in common. I feel the pressure of narrowing the topic even further down.

Anyhow, the emphasising “game specificity” is something that has been one important upgrade from the last presentation. The techniques that we have developed in GameSpace are especially designed for generating game ideas. This means that they are supposed to help in keeping the focus on certain idea generation restrictions: they help producing game ideas. Traditionally restrictions in idea generation sessions may be only in the head of the participants, but we have designed the stimuli sets and the structures of the techniques to support producing game ideas. Partly this is taken even further: restrictions or special features of casual, mobile or multiplayer games are supported. As I have not yet reached any clean theoretical support for this perspective, we do know that it works.

The needs of further development and research of our methods are leading to two currently relevant questions: “What is a game idea (anyway)?” and “How to evaluate the impact of the techniques?”

The question of the game idea is not asked because of the mere needs of being “interestingly philosophical”, but from the practical perspective. With specified idea generation methods the characteristics of the idea becomes central issue. And I do not believe that all ideas are alike (e.g. ideas for political revolution vs. ideas of a more ecological car engines).When we are trying to enhance the process of generating certain types of ideas, we are becoming pressured to uncover the general structure or arousing mechanisms of this particular ideating process.

“Game idea” may mean different things to different people. Views may vary even in the level of function: for some a game idea may mean the essence of the potential game or just the initial point of game design process. In the presentation I call these two as the inspirational and fundamental approaches to ideas. I would keep these two separate regarding to theoretical aspects even though I would assume that they are not separated in practice (nor they should be). Game specific idea generation technique could be targeting to guide ideating process towards certain form or then it could be designed to support the generation of ideas that inspire participants due to different reasons. Both approaches can have their strengths and ideas produced with the techniques may then be evaluated on different basis.

The impact value of the idea generation technique however is not only in the immediate results (the ideas generated during the sessions). I have developed an early model for evaluation of idea generation techniques that takes the wider perspective on the techniques impact. The model is based on the assumption of three different functions of the technique sessions: immediate results, the triggering factors and educative aspects. Traditionally idea generation techniques are evaluated according to their immediate results as their impact may be most wanted on “creativity on demand” situations. As creative processes most likely are not always working towards this demand, the techniques may still hold two very important functions for enhancing creative work. The regular idea sessions may work as a trigger or stimulation of natural idea generation processes or they can train the participators on creative thinking skills. As general idea generation techniques would fit best to the latter, the game specific techniques could fit better to the first. Important notice is however, that the enhancement of creative work should not be left on techniques that are evaluated as being most effective on immediate results.

I am working on an article that presents the model and the distinctions in more depth. The model will work as a guideline to the analysis of the user data of  GameSpace idea generation techniques that we will gather during this autumn.

Here are the slides from the presentation for Nokia Play New: