Travel & conferences

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

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:

Mobile Games Seminar cancelled

I was supposed to give a speech at Mobile Games Seminar, L.A. this September about creativity techniques in game design (more specifically about game idea generation techniques that we have developed in GameSpace project) as I stated in the previous post.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, the seminar was cancelled two weeks ago without any detailed explanations. This is kind of new to me and I really did not expect this from GDC organization… 

Fortunately my un-refundable plain tickets are not wasted, since I have planned all along to visit Seattle and Microsoft during the same trip. Now I just have more time to spend in the wonderful Seattle!

Creativity Techniques in Game Design

During this first year of GameSpace project we have been, among other things, developing idea generation techniques for games to utilise at our research workshops. In these workshops we have discussed the limits and possibilities of casual, multiplayer and mobile games and expanding the game space with new game ideas produced with game specific idea generation techniques. From these workshops we have gathered the data of the use experiences and developed techniques based on the analysis of that data and ideas recorded. 

On the last workshop (Workshop III on mobile games) I was giving a presentation on some theoretical issues lying behind the idea generation techniques and underlying som points that rises from our analysis. I also introduced new techniques that our team had been working on. Some of the techniques are based on brainstorming, some of them were more game-alike or computer aided techniques.

At the moment we are putting finishing touches to our techniques to conduct an extended study in real workplace situations. So far our findings have only concerned the first time uses of the techniques in a mixed company groups and workshop surroundings, which could be seen problematic. We are interested how they would be perceived as a normal part of the daily work in real game designing situations on a longer period of time. I am also working on a paper that would conclude some theoretical assumptions lying behind the creativity techniques to gain better understanding on the possible modification issues when it comes to the game specific ideation techniques.  Comprehensive view on our findings on workshop uses of game specific idea generation techniques and the theoretical background I am also presenting at the Mobile Games Seminar in Los Angeles this September.

Here are the slides of my presentation on Creativity Techniques in Game Design held in GameSpace Workshop III in Helsinki this May:

NG 2007: LocoRoco and the Singing Aibo

Two weeks after Nordic Game 2007 conference, I am already looking forward the next year. What a nice event it was indeed! Meanwhile being too busy to publish my own entry, I have been enjoying the notes and pictures of other NG07 participants, such as Sonja Kangas, Tanja Sihvonen and Jason Della Rocca. Finally, here comes my personal overview for the conference: 

The mixture of industry and scholars was rather refreshing to me since I have not attended this kind of events before.  Presentations gave nice overview on perspectives that people can have to games. Paulina Bozek introduced the MyEverything -thinking behind the new Singstar game for Playstation 3, Papermint guys were citing Nietzsche (or other famous philosopher) and wearing wigs,  T.L. Taylor talked convincingly about modding using example of World of Warcraft like many others and Jesper Juul recommended punishments for casual gamers. Alessandro Canossa was concerned about the still on-going “mastrubative nature” of game design while presenting linguistic approach to creating different player experiences and despite the great videos in his presentation, the Eve online dude lost my attention by noting that “girls don’t like spaceships”, since I realized that I don’t and continued texting with my phone. Even though the fabulous collection of these presentations already gave me a lot, the two Japanese ones remained my definite favourites.

Tsutomu Kouno is known from his PS2 title ICO and PSP title LocoRoco. He gave an interesting overview of the design process of this “happy game” that he described being “something interesting for women and children”. The presentation was held in English and I must say that it was a brave and admirable thing to do even though he consistently was seeking words for his thoughts without any given success (it is not easy to be Japanese). The interesting part in his presentation was that he made the entire concept work for Locoroco in transitional spaces, such as in the train with his PDA since there were no time or permission to use time from the ongoing project. Concept drawings were rather simple and motivating to see and even one of the earliest demo already looked like the finished game. Unfortunately even the greatest ideas are hard to push thru, LocoRoco being no exception. In the interview of GamesIndustry.biz from Nordic Game he is actually phrasing this despair followingly: “I have many ideas, but I can’t make them all because I am only one person.” How is this possible? Please hire more dudes to help this lonely guy to produce us more LocoRoco (or RaparperiKukkakaali, as Suvi Latva from Elvi would propose)!

The most “entertaining” performance was held by the famous Masaya Matsuura, the maker of Parappa the Rapper (1996) (that evidently emptied audience from the other tracks as my colleague Aki Järvinen from Veikkaus, the Finnish National Lottery got to find out). First part of Matsuura’s performance was hmm… rather interesting, and I have to say that even though nothing really clung to my mind (other than “games… are… somethingsomething.. human soul”) the presentation was enjoyable. This was largely due to the fact that after the talk we saw him singing with Aibo, the robot dog that participated rather successfully: only half way thru I realized that he was actually “singing on the go” and not pre-programmed.

Admittedly, the conference provided lots to take back to Finland. Additionally to refreshing presentations I got to talk with many interesting people and realized that even though I play a lot, I don’t play enough. Still, I wouldn’t play Eve Online.

Here is a pic of me posing like a Japanese tourist at the NG07:

NG07 Rocks!

Nordic Game 2007, Malmö: Talking Casual

I gave a presentation entitled “Talking Casual” today at the Nordic Game conference at Malmö, Sweden. In this talk I tried to expand the views we presented at the Gamers in Society seminar few weeks ago about casual games discussion.

Main addition to the previous presentation is the preview of Expanded Game Experience (EGE) model, that tries to bring together inner processes and outer effects that are affecting the game experience in wider sense: outer game experiences such as social context and other media environments have relevancies to game experiences of different levels. The model provides theoretical framework to analyze and design games that are not heavily gameplay-centric in a more holistic way without being too broad, such as concept of “culture” can be. Naturally this brings some limitations to the applicability of the model, but suits well at least on getting further with mapping out “casual in games phenomenon”.

Game Research Lab goes GroupMindMapping

Last Wednesday we did some group midmapping to get an overview of the individual interests and connections of our multidisciplinary research group at our regular Game Research Lab monthly meeting (before heading to play Poker at Ollis place). One big sheet of paper was laid on the table and everybody draw bubbles of their interests and connections between interests of others while explaining them in turns.

The exercise was surprisingly fun. We did talk about interests that have never come up in regular meetings and found new connections between projects. Not that surprising, but nice fact was that almost all of our individual interests seemed to be connected to the others. Time and paper was limited (there were about 15 of us) and there were evidentally much more to discuss about (at least I had about 5 more bubbles in my mind ready to draw on the sheet). Hopefully we continue this every now and then to build even stronger basis for synergy… Go Game Research Lab!

Here some pics (check it out how BEAUTIFULL the mindmap is.. ;)):
Mindmap1 Mindmap2