Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why are games "too difficult to play?"

Been some talk recently that maybe games are "too difficult to learn to play" for newcomers. [EA execs talk...]

Too often we feel like the need to vomit "differentiation" (HEY CHECK OUT WHY WE'RE SO AWESOME AND TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN THAT OTHER FRANCHISE) at the feet of the player, which results in crummy board, mission, and level design that is stilted by in your face prompts. None of this is good for "learning to play" and it's certainly not fun. 

Doesn't matter if you're developing a 10-100 hour console game or a social/mobile game designed to support 5 minute sessions, the best way to solve "too difficult to learn how to play" is by aspirational board/level design, intuitive game play controls and feedback, a simple way to convey "what should I do next" for the player who wants a hint/suggestion, and a game shell UX that educates the players about core systems. 

That said, I don't know a good solution for the ultra hard games that require serious reflexes and muscle memory. Was never able to progress through games like God of War because it felt like taking a day or two between 1-4 hour sessions meant I backtracked too far to keep up. Maybe more encouragement to re-grind the last content I mastered to warm up before starting a new session?

Having a progression system that allows (and encourages!) players to practice until they feel comfortable in a fun environment definitely helps. Think about random map games that allow players to set their own difficulty, competitive multiplayer games that offer co-op vs. AI, and providing additional rewards for completing previous content (extra practice at a challenge level that the player has succeeded at).

I also think it's worth studying games that turn player "failure" (e.g., "death") on its head and build frequent failure into the game design. Many of these games are super hard core and not directly applicable to broader appeal franchises. But it's worth considering ways to allow players to fail gracefully, figure out why they failed, have fun doing so, and not be too burdened by the experience. Or, have failure be delightful and use that delight to drive player desire to progress further.

Will be thinking about some examples to write about in the future.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Business Cards!

Liza has been (correctly) hounding me to get business cards together. She did a great job with a reluctant client. They aren't perfect, yet... Don't have a business name, slogan, identity, contact info is too small, etc. But they're sharp and provide the relevant information.

I chose the name "Jason Schklar Consults" for horrible reasons. It's a reference to The Office (British version) and specifically to a segment where the unlikable Gareth Keenan is charged with investigating some office malfeasance.

The actual copy I gave Liza was "Jason Schklar Consults!" (with the exclamation point) but she wisely cut it. Fortunately Liza doesn't have login credentials to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts where I keep the "!"

Friday, February 6, 2015

So... I had kids. And "updating my gaming PC!"

Last post was September, 2010.


  • Zynga imploded (left days before they shut our doors in Baltimore)
  • Disney Mobile Austin/Prague imploded (first time in an almost 15 year career I was part of a layoff)
  • I'm back to consulting!
Oh, and also I managed to have two kids. Boys, now aged 4 and (almost) 3. I've been busy and both gaming and writing habits have changed.

But more on all that later.


Now that I'm consulting I actually have more time to play games, so I plan to write more about my gaming. And now that I have non-mobile game clients, that means I need to dust off the old machines and probably buy some new ones.
  • Got the Wii U for me and the kids. That is one complicated mofo to setup. Thankfully I have two toddlers who seem to figure it out with few problems whatsoever. I love to listen to them discussing the best way to navigate the game shell or in-game menus. I'm proud when they figure out how to set up the projector, video splitter box, and Wii so that they can have it all ready for me to join them mid-session. And I cringe when the older one slams a controller over the head of the younger one for stealing his power up. Let's just say I have a LOT more content to draw from now than ever before :)
  • Tried to revamp the gaming PC (purchased in 2008 to support my work on Kingdoms of Amalur) so that it could run some newer code for a PC gaming client of mine. Meant getting a new video card (obviously) but figured I'd also upgrade from 32 to 64 bit to better support the build process. I'll post about THAT process in a separate entry... I'd forgotten how frustrating and exhilarating it was to upgrade a PC. 

The plan is for me to actually spend time writing again. Look forward to new games, new experiences with my kids, and working with friends on games.