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Tiger Style, the indie studio behind this year's Waking Mars and the 2009 IGF Best Mobile Game, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, is committed to creating innovative gameplay and meaningful artistic content with every project.  Despite a strong background in design savvy titles such as Thief, Deus Ex, and Splinter Cell, the team learned that innovation is never easy or predictable.  Numerous prototypes, several major revisions, and a series of crucial revelations were survived before the concepts "action gardening" and "ecosystem gameplay" evolved from catch phrases into new interactive experiences the team was proud of.  Join creative director Randy Smith through a tour of their well-documented experiments, mistakes, theories, and victories to get a glimpse into what this award-winning studio has learned about the problem of inventing new gameplay.

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  • Intro – I’ll speak English, hopefully slowly
  • More recently, formed this studio where I’m the creative director
    We released this game in 2009, it did pretty well
    Here today to talk about this game, released March for iOS and recently PC / Android.
    Who has played WM?
  • Because not everyone knows it, watch trailer.
    Action adventure game set in a cave on Mars interact with alien ecosystem.
    Cast of alien plants and creatures you interact with.
    Player collects and throws seeds to interact.
  • This is a post-mortem on how we designed a new type of gameplay.

    Young indie studio - console/AAA background.
    First game was critical/commercial success. Won awards.
    2nd game = wanted to level up, “even better” STILL MEETING STUDIO GOALS (soph anx = nervous about not living up to our first game)
    Bolt = a) realized Spider was (relatively) bolt of lighting,
    & b) that normally innovation = false starts, experiments, backtracking, effort.
    But ultimately success! Invent something new, proud of it. Learned a lot about doing it faster, better.
  • “without Guns” – push ourselves into frontiers by not relying on violent conflict resolution
    Artistic meaning – not just disposable, some lasting value.
    native – both the device hardware and appropriate to the audience
    Bring concepts like emergent gameplay and environmental storytelling to a casual audience
  • Chronological by phase
    First project phase = concept
  • In concept for 4 months, considering different ideas
    Here are 3 docs that factored into WM
  • Tiger head = a badge to indicate you’re looking at our internal documentation.
    Often lots of words, you don’t need to read them all.
    Concept called World Creator.
    Draw a line.
  • Fills in to become a mountain.
  • Rain comes and creates lakes and waterfalls.
  • (we didn’t build this)
    Key point = creation instead of destruction
    creating things that would grow and have a life of their own
  • navigate an IK-driven robot around a cave environment.
    (only has 6 arms)
    First time we thought about caves
    This character later appeared in the game as OCTO, the robot who explored the cave first but got lost
  • This is a total aside – this article came out very recently, and it’s about using
    A spider-like robot to explore lava tubes on mars  just IS octo
  • It had been months - then DESCENT treatment
    This is the one the team latched onto
    Present day earth
    Simple game of climbing ever deeper into a cave.
    No story. Just action gameplay and essence of character and adventure
  • As with most videos, this is early proto, not what we shipped
    Mechanics = Movement, Headlamp, Rope
    Caving game!
  • Were struggling, so: ran thought experiment:
    what if we took our cave game and set it in space?
    Took about 3 minutes to decide to pursue it.
  • So we had ideas about creating things. And now ideas about lifeforms.
    Spawned a couple phrases that would drive our design process.
    HOWEVER we didn’t know what these meant yet.
    It was a concept in isolation from specific examples of gameplay.
    This is where we had to innovate.
    And often where things go wrong, eg – don’t know how to capture the essence of Barbie, so just reskin Super Mario Bros.
  • Next phase – working toward first playable demo of Mars Descent
  • Big inspiration = Our Universe
    Mostly factual about solar system
    Alien lifeforms had diets, reproduction, grounded in their unearthly environments
  • You can see ecosystem increasingly being a focus.
    Not that we knew what the gameplay would be yet.
  • Still have Headlamp
    Now used to grow plants, repel alien bats
  • Learning movement basics while being exposed to the story via environmental gameplay
    Kind of a more raw version of an ecosystem game, very survival / cavey
  • Sent playtest builds to external people

    Start by analyzing player mechanics
    Some more problematic than others
  • Why did we have oxygen resource?
    Time pressure = motivate risk
    Collection = reward exploration
    But players didn’t feel safe exploring unless they knew where next meal was coming from

  • Realistic = difficult
    Gave players something to think about, but was it the right something?
  • Why we liked headlamp
  • Made a tiny screen even more difficult because filled it with black pixels
  • Inventory seemed more hardcore
    But counter-intuitively, it was easier and less fussy, not more so
    gave you more chances to hit with a seed, less consequence for screwing up, less backtracking.
  • All of these things together: complex, fussy, lots of player attention for even simple actions, lots of telling the player NO.
    You missed with that seed, you’re running out of o2, etc.
  • Developed this design lens
    Meaningful choice in the Sid Meir sense
    Interaction density = how frequently these happen (especially ones that really matter.)
    So it’s a ratio, let’s see some examples
  • It might be interesting to watch, but if you only touched the screen once, that’s low density.
  • few points where it might become varied or dynamic.
    One decision, minutes of rote execution.
  • Plants grow to maturity automatically when they land in the right terrain.
    Maximum density = meaningful actions can happen as quickly as you can think of them
  • Line of thought raised red flag about design dogmas.
    Obvious thing to say when designing a shooter, for example – “make everything go faster” but doing what all shooters do <> how you innovate.
    Expansive, deliberately paced caving game – not sure it’s a bad idea
    But we decided it was a bad match for the iOS, might work on the xbox.
  • So that was the feedback from 1st playable. Moved on..
    2nd playable addressed some of these concerns, as we’ll see in a video pretty soon.
    AND we Needed to focus more on ecosystem gameplay
    had been dodging it

  • Initial focus on mid-level, ie – low level = grow plants. mid level = goal for low level actions. Why do you grow plants?
    There’s some kind of barrier and to open it you have to take the actions it tells you.
    How is this better? This is like being told which chores to do.
  • This idea = there are red and green plants. When you plant one, the nearby terrain transforms and you can only plant similar plants there.
    Makes use of terrain, some spots have more neighbors than others.
    Answered the question - why does the shape of the cave matter? Why is it better to plant one place than another?
    Wanted planting decisions to matter, to be less rote.
  • This idea = plants have relationships to other plants.
    Eg – light plants should be planted to shine on your o2 plants.
    Water plants are good but must be planted near explosive plants which are dangerous.
    Why not remove player entirely? What was the player contributing other than UI complexity?
    Remove player = very touch native, very iOS friendly
    But, no, we wanted personal.
    Point = were really thinking broadly about the mid-level
  • So we had all these possible mid levels, Went with just O2/CO2
    Must raise biomass high enough, then balance the parameters
    Dropped anchor on a specific decision
  • innovation tends to feel very floaty, lots of possibilities
    Noodle = tweak one parameter at a time, try different stuff.
    Anchor = make decisions, stick to them, work toward a single holistic design
  • Seeing some promising results, but game is still not what we want it to be, not fun yet
    Mid-level structure didn’t solve our problems.
    Had to shift our focus from mid-level to low-level gameplay
  • Here’s an idea that you can plant your own cave fishers as traps
    Throw them on the floors and ceilings
  • And that there’s a hive of pest creatures that eventually opens up and comes to eat your oxygen plants
    So you better have prepared well and fend them off
    Interesting, but very complex – and not very flexible, mostly does this one thing
  • Instead, we took a step back..
    Formulate theories about low level action gameplay
    not one grand unified theory, but a set of related ideas
    What makes combat such an appealing interaction?
    Lot of reasons, starting with these…
  • Another reason = how input is used. Nuanced / analog controls  whether you take a corner correctly in a racing game and how correct.
    Which specific attack you select in fighting game, when you launch it.
    This kind of nuance creates depth and opportunity for mastery.
    Meaningful = you can draw a straight line from the player’s input through your game systems, in code, to the outcome.
    Instead of success/failure could be, say, a particular garden of their own design
    Or an experiment to see what happens when you hit an alien creature with a particular seed type
  • Great action genres tend to have these types of properties – combat, racing, platforming
  • And thief stealth systems were designed with some of this stuff in mind - Thief stealth was innovative,
    Eg – the reasons guards talk all the time
    “I know you’re out there” is to give you feedback about how you’re doing
    “Damn I lost him” is clarity that the encounter is over
  • When we applied this lens to WM.
    Eg – drama came from story
    - clarity on encounters came from levels, eg- win = open the airlock
    But we could use the bottom half as a lens to analyze our gameplay
  • Another lens to analyze action gameplay – it has these properties
    Outcome is unpredictable, but acceptable.
    So were looking for a sequence like on the bottom.
    Eg – throw seed toward FT, context = falling stalactite, skill = miss stalactite but hit FT requires nuanced timing and control,
    Didn’t see a lot of this in the videos
  • Throwing seeds doesn’t have these problems – what’s the difference?
  • Difference = built on the foundation of an actual simulation, physics system
    Real simulations are:
    Super complicated, when 2 objects collide they transfer all this data about momentum and speed and direction, etc..
    But also very intuitive because players have spent their whole lives learning the rule.
  • All of these simulations: physics, fire propagation, fluid dynamics, traffic
    very complicated interaction that players already understand
    Therefore unpredictable, but acceptable.
    ASIDE: this is why successful gameplay is always about things, not people – we don’t have equally strong simulations for human interactions, they are subjective and thin, whereas physical sims are objective and deep
  • Because these actions are arbitrated by the physics sim:
    Player throws a seed at FT
    Stalactite falls, might hit a crab scuttling over to eat a seed
    Acquire desirable properties of unpredictable but acceptable
  • Brings us back to this concept.
    counter intuitive that removing player actions would make a game better
    the real issue is the qualities those actions have.
    Prune actions without these qualities, or give them these qualities
  • For Waking Mars specifically -
    Key for making our gameplay better = add more meaning when objects collide
    Scrutinize any time a collision happens: can we produce a result the player might care about?
  • There are bat creatures who fly around carrying seeds.
    Previously if they were hit by a seed, nothing happened which seemed vacant.
    Now they would drop them.
  • Previously nothing happened when the player got close to a crab who was eating a seed,
    Now that was hooked up to the crab dropping the seed and running away
    Drop the seed = back into physic sim, can roll downhill, land in FT
  • We introduced new objects just to create collision meaning.
  • So for us, focusing on collisions turned out to be the way to bring all these lessons together.
    Seems like kind of a simple solution.
    But: the player has the right kind of input and control
    Also the seeds, lifeforms, fertile terrrain, etc., were all physical
    The physics is the right kind of arbitrator
    Collisions in particular are a very clear physical events (we also did some proximity)
    And we could create meaning the player cared about.

    As a result, it gave players tasks to attempt to master – dodge acid drips, hit a bat in mid-air, catch a seed before it plants itself, chase a crab into a tentacle
  • Here’s another way to look at the same thing.
    If this is a generic game.
    Give the left two the qualities that action games have
  • If you’re getting this vibe, it’s something we were thinking about from the beginning.
    Emergent gameplay could be and has been its own whole talk.
    So let’s just look at an example of emergence in our game.
  • Projectile is in mid-air. Maybe by player, maybe by plant. Doesn’t matter.
    Hits a bat carrying a seed. Bat drops seed, thus keeping the causal chain going.
    Lands in FT and start to plant.
    Crab is nearby, maybe because of something player did recently (same as the projectile, bat)
    Starts to eat the seed.
    Is this good or bad? Depends on context, player’s goals. If wanted to plant seed, bad. If grow crabs, good.
  • :20 - player flying between acid drips and catching seeds, mastery of jetpack
    2:18 - various emergence -
    With tuning, pretty much the core gameplay we shipped.
    Mostly after this was production and story, etc, other parts of the direction
  • So: focus on low-level was definitely the right call.
  • In fact, remember this?
  • Cut any notion of o2/co2 balance, went with super simple.
    Creatures produce biomass, which you need to raise to open airlocks.
  • One of the reasons the simple mid-level worked is because it fed the low level:
    Player created more units  more interactions
    More things to survive: their own playground.
  • Would have required players to solve a system of linear equations
    Not where you want the focus in an action game
  • Remember we asked this question?
    We found lots of answers in the low level, eg – don’t plant dangerous plants in narrow corridors where they are hard to dodge, do plant in places where seeds will cascade down the terrain and land in FT (assuming that’s your goal, assuming that’s the type of seed you are planting)
  • Fate of caving and gardening = “lite” versions only.
    Not focused on the experiences those are concerned with
    Instead concerned with ecosystem stuff
    When innovating, can’t support 3 games. TR and LL were not innovative.
    Streamlines other games, so easier to do ecosystem stuff
  • Final summary / conclusions. These are things to be wary of when designing:
    The phrase “Doing your chores” or when your game feels like that
    Focusing on adding more complex interactions - instead create simple interactions that connect well
    or focus on solving the mid-level – make sure your low level Is strong first
  • Interaction density – monitor the time and actions required to act on meaningful player choice
    Nuanced input (which actions, specific timing, analog adjustments) should lead to success, failure, or other meaningful results – this is an indication of depth and mastery
    Players with more mastery should be seeing more success, if not why not?
    Gameplay should be unpredictable but lead to outcomes that are acceptable to the player, clear why they happened
    Noodling vs. anchoring – if you’ve been wandering for a while, take a stand and try something specific and holistic, learn from it then go back into noodling

  • Randy_Smith_Landing_on_Mars-Our_Rocky_Path_to_Innovative_Gameplay

    1. 1. Landing on Our Rocky Path to Inventing New Gameplay Randy Smith Tiger Style
    2. 2. about me designer / director with 15 years industry experience
    3. 3. about me
    5. 5. The Story of this Port-Mort Sophomore Anxiety!
    6. 6. Tiger Style Goals • Innovative, Nonviolent, Meaningful • iOS Hardware and Demographic • Sophisticated interaction  Casual Audience
    7. 7. Phase: CONCEPT
    8. 8. Three Concepts World Creator Octobot Descent
    9. 9. • First draw any line that connects the LHS of the screen to the RHS
    10. 10. • It fills in automatically.
    11. 11. OCTOBOT
    12. 12. • Continuously make your way down, down, deeper and deeper. • You can rock climb, squeeze through small openings, limited rope resource for lowering yourself safely, etc. • Avoid death by falling, dangerous spikes, rushing water, etc.. • Use finger to orient head lamp so you can see upcoming dangers better. • Crumbling rock surfaces, ways to roll out of long falls to reduce damage, etc.. • Collect bonus items on the way. • Like Doodle Jump gameplay in reverse. Move fast! Go deep! Keep moving! Quick! • Or not? Timed mode, Survival mode, Collection/Points mode? • Randomly generated cave terrain for max replayability? • Different phases of cave terrain and style of exploration / features? Eg – get deep enough and it’s darker, or more crumbly surfaces, or more water, etc..
    13. 13. DESCENT VIDEO
    14. 14. DESCENT Conclusions • Tomb Raider already exists • Caves are boring • Too few goals, rewards, experiences
    15. 15. Sci-Fi Thought Experiment • Interesting environments • Stuff to discover, collect • Catchier story possibilities • Alien lifeforms • Sounds good!
    16. 16. Creation + Lifeforms = “Action Gardening” & “Ecosystem Gameplay” ! Concept, but no gameplay plan
    17. 17. Phase: First Playable
    18. 18. Still a personal, rock climbing / cave diving game. Survival. Isolation. Human vulnerability. Etc. Just: on Mars now. NOT: shooting, RPG, treasure collecting, etc.
    19. 19. REFLECTIONS OF EARTH I like alien creatures as a way to explore the startling diversity on earth. Would like to portray a strongly-plausible ecosystem, inspired by facts of the real universe. hugely inspirational childhood book
    20. 20. ECOSYSTEM In addition to moving, exploring, and finding food, water, and air for survival, a big part of the player’s actions involve bringing life and activity back to the cave under their own design. It’s a thin “SimLife” type system on top of a platformer.
    21. 21. JETPACK Triple Jump – Player can’t fly but can fire jets repeatedly to jump higher and further. Low Gravity – Allows the player to jump further and fall slower. Reduced Falling Damage – Jetpack automatically fires to slow impact. This encourages bolder player exploration. Fuel – Player can learn how to harvest fuel from elements in the cave environment. (info)
    22. 22. HEADLAMP Objects in the environment respond to the headlamp. Eg: • Crab-like creatures scuttle away. • Plant-like objects grow. • Crystal growths collect glow from it, then emit slowly over time. • Bat-like creatures are disturbed from sleep by it, then repelled by it.
    24. 24. External Feedback • Like the concept of Mars explorer! • …but lots of issues… • Player mechanics – Oxygen – Jetpack – Headlamp
    25. 25. Oxygen Resource • Time pressure • Collection (ice) • BUT: made players reluctant to explore
    26. 26. Jetpack • Fuel = resource-limited. Therefore, caving movement still happens. • Control = lunar lander, “realistic”.
    27. 27. Headlamp • Touch screen native • Tool for – Growing – Finding – Repelling
    28. 28. BUT
    29. 29. No Inventory
    30. 30. Jetpack + Headlamp + Oxygen + No inventory = •UI complexity •Player attention •Disempowerment !
    31. 31. “Doing your chores” !
    32. 32. “Interaction Density” Meaningful Choice Amount of time # Player Actions or
    33. 33. Eg – Low Density Walk To End of Level Hold screen and wait
    34. 34. Eg – Low Density Grow One Plant Pick up seed Throw seed Wait Shine light on plant Pick up water Throw water etc
    35. 35. Eg – High Density Grow One Plant Throw One Seed “As fast as you can think it”
    36. 36. Low Density is not Inherently Bad Design Dogma BUT, on iOS games: • Screen too small for “expansive”? • Audience too ADHD for “deliberate”?
    37. 37. Phase: Second Playable
    38. 38. (exit) Plant 4 Oxygen Plants “Airlock” Plants • Enforce gameplay
    39. 39. Red plants only in this terrain Green plants only in this Wterrahin y does it matter WHERE you plant?
    40. 40. Light Plants Oxygen Plants Water Plant Plant Cannon Weeds --- possibilities ---- Remove the player??
    41. 41. (exit) ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS Requires: Oxygen Nitrogen Temp BIOMASS: TOO LOW Create more life!
    42. 42. MID-LEVEL FEEDBACK Biomass not high enough yet Biomass high enough, but O2/CO2 Imbalance IMBALANCE !! Level complete COMPLETE
    43. 43. =
    46. 46. CUP AND BALL PLANT Repeatedly spits a seed up and catches it. Reason = This is an easy trajectory for the player to avoid flying into, or to hit with a projectile on purpose, etc.. Player might knock seed away deliberately or accidentally, or it might happen emergently (eg – jumping crab hits it). When it loses seed, plant closes up to produce new seed. During this it has an important mid-level impact, eg: consumes lots of Nitrogen, or stops coloring terrain in its radius. Player may or may not want this, depending on circumstances. You’ll see in some of the following slides that I use this idea a lot, of a plant that changes state to fix something about itself, or grow a new thing, etc.. It feels “ecosystem-y” and it works well to connect mid and low level play. Variations: - Plant freaks out and trashes around when it loses seed. - Seed goes into player’s inventory
    47. 47. CAVE FISHER Cave fishers are naturally-occurring lifeforms, but what if the player can collect their seeds/eggs and shoot them to position new ones? Then cave fisher ammo = sets an environmental trap. Cave fisher on ground = eats creatures that walk into it? Or floats its stick thread upward? Reason = one tool is both land mine AND ceiling trap
    48. 48. PESTS These live in an indestructible hive until something that triggers them to come out and launch an attack on plants you want to protect. You can prepare traps for their attack, shoot them out of mid-air, etc.. Player’s plants that need protection Mid-level: Maybe the player’s plants are an “oxygen farm,” meaning that once you plant 5 oxygen plants, you’re producing tons of oxygen into the environment or something similarly helpful to your mid-level goals. You learn that once you hit 5 plants, though, the hive opens, so you better be prepared to defend your oxygen farm.
    49. 49. Why Combat Works • High stakes drama (life or death) • Clarity on – Start, finish – Win / lose – Intermediate progress
    50. 50. Why Combat Works • Nuanced input is MEANINGFUL – Which actions – Specific timing – Continuous analog micro-adjustments  Depth and mastery “Meaningful” = Contributes toward a result player cares about. e.g. – success / failure
    51. 51. Combat, Racing, Platforming • High stakes drama • Clarity on – Start, finish – Win / lose – Intermediate progress • Nuanced input is meaningful – Which actions – Specific timing – Continuous analog micro-adjustments • Depth and mastery
    52. 52. Thief Stealth • High stakes drama • Clarity on – Start, finish – Win / lose – Intermediate progress • Nuanced input is meaningful – Which actions – Specific timing – Continuous analog micro-adjustments • Depth and mastery
    53. 53. • High stakes drama • Clarity on – Start, finish – Win / lose – Intermediate progress • Nuanced input is meaningful – Which actions – Specific timing – Continuous analog micro-adjustments • Depth and mastery High Level Mid Level
    54. 54. Mastery  More success? SECOND PLAYABLE REDUX
    55. 55. Action Gameplay • Unpredictable / Uncertain • Results are Acceptable / Clear Player makes choice to take action  Skill at execution / Current context  Unpredictable but Acceptable result
    56. 56. Grow Plant With Headlamp Player choice  Skill doesn’t matter  Predictable result
    57. 57. Throw Seeds Skill and context matter  Unpredictable but Acceptable result
    58. 58. Simulation Foundation
    59. 59. Simulation Foundation
    60. 60. Unpredictable Acceptable
    61. 61. “Doing your chores” ! • Too many player actions without: o Uncertainty o Meaning o Progress toward goals o Rewards
    62. 62. Add More Meaning To Collisions
    63. 63. Bats drop seeds
    64. 64. Produce different results
    65. 65. Player can shoo crabs so they stop eating seeds
    66. 66. Acid drips hurt
    67. 67. Add More Meaning To Collisions • Why it worked – Player has nuanced input into physics – Important game objects were physical – Physics is unpredictable but acceptable – Collisions are a clear event – Player cares about meaning (win/lose) • Motivates mastery – Dodge acid – Hit bat – Catch seed – Herd crab into fisher
    68. 68. Player input  Events  Results Nuanced Analog Time-based Simulated Unpredictable Acceptable Success Failure Meaning
    70. 70. Emergent Example
    73. 73. MID-LEVEL FEEDBACK Biomass not high enough yet Biomass high enough, but O2/CO2 Imbalance IMBALANCE !! Level complete COMPLETE
    74. 74. Shipping Mid-Level
    75. 75. Led To More Interactions Build your own level
    76. 76. (exit) ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS Requires: Oxygen Nitrogen Temp BIOMASS: TOO LOW Create more life!
    77. 77. Red plants only in this terrain Green plants only in this Wterrahin y does it matter WHERE you plant?
    78. 78. Switch to One Focus • NOT Caving – darkness, movement • NOT Gardening – tending to plants • YES Ecosystem – interactions between lifeforms • Innovation: – Can’t support 3 games – Tomb Raider, Lunar Lander not Innovative – Made it easier to play Ecosystem
    79. 79. Be Wary Of • “Doing Your Chores” • Complex Design • Focus on Mid-Level
    80. 80. Useful Lenses • Interaction Density • Nuanced Input  Meaningful Results • Mastery  More Success • Unpredictable but Clear & Acceptable – Foundation of a Real Simulation • Noodling vs. Anchoring
    81. 81. Thanks! Q & A randy @ TigerStyleGames.com