Archive for March, 2011

Announcing Hogrocket

Posted by pcollier under Action, Creativity, General, Work

Hogrocket Logo

For a very special reason I’m taking a break from my traditional design orientated posts today. Today I am pleased to announce the launch of my very own company: Hogrocket. We are an indie game development studio focused on mobile, social and connected platforms. I’ve founded the company with Stephen Cakebread and Ben Ward who are two ex-colleagues from my former employer Bizarre Creations. Stephen is best known as the creator of the Geometry Wars franchise and Ben primarily for being the awesome guy who helped build community at Bizarre.

Forming Hogrocket is a big deal for me; I’ve always wanted to run my own company. To be able to combine this with my passion for design is a prospect I’m relishing. Don’t get me wrong it’s also very scary; going from a regular wage to surviving off your wits alone is daunting. But in some ways this is also the point, this is a challenge that I could not live with myself for not attempting.   I’m also incredibly lucky to be in a position where I’ve found two super talented people (and hopefully others soon too) to go on this journey with. That’s not something to be under estimated. Quite often however much you want to set up a company the timing isn’t right or the team isn’t there. Finding people who have the same risk profile and similar aspirations is a very specific ask. Suffice to say I’m excited about the future and already enjoying the creative freedom and liberations of working in a small, dynamic team.

The game development industry is in a very interesting state of flux right now. This is acutely apparent in the UK; mainstream game development here has been utterly devastated. This is through a combination of advantageous tax relief programs in Canada causing brain-drain in the UK and traditional large publishers in a flight to the safety of their established, biggest selling brands. This would have been a worrying death knell for innovation and creativity in our industry but thankfully a brave new world of game development is occurring at the other end of spectrum. From the fragmented remains of large scale studio closures small teams of indie developers everywhere are springing up. This is occurring because the barriers to entry are being removed, suddenly there are no gatekeepers. It is possible to direct sell to people online and multiple business models to do it. Additionally, say what you like about developing for Apple iOS devices (discoverability etc) but now there is the opportunity to make smaller games for low development costs and make a living. This state of play simply hasn’t existed in the industry for decades. So joining the indie ranks with Hogrocket is something that, as a creative, I feel an incredibly liberating prospect. Hopefully the adventure won’t end up simply liberating my bank account of cash!

So please join the community we will be building at Hogrocket, I look forward to talking to you and sharing our progress.

Rhythm

Posted by pcollier under Action, Emotion, Immersion

Kodo - Japanese Drums

Rhythm is a very primal thing. Right from the very first moment of our existence it is there, our own heartbeat offset against the comforting beat of our mother’s. So to design games without considering rhythm can only be detrimental to your cause. If you want to tap into merriment of the soul then beat should be a fundamental part of player experience.

When I talk about rhythm in game design I’m primarily referring to the players actions. Music is an obvious provider of rhythm, but in an active not passive medium it should only really be an enhancer (unless of course it is part of the game-play! i.e. Guitar Hero). In effect player input provides a beat and the quality of the game determines its suitability as well as the sense of connection the player feels with the experience. You can start to see why relying on music alone to give a sense of rhythm is a hallmark of weak game design.

The best games have a tangible sense of ebb and flow that imitate the natural cycles present everywhere in life. We’re very adept as humans at detecting things that aren’t quite right or broken. Things that are un-tuned or disjointed upset our natural balance. So we naturally gravitate toward things that are harmonious. Especially in this modern age with all its distractions we are calmed and excited by rhythm and the recognition of patterns and beats. They are comforting and give us a sense of control. This sense of control and of tapping into the heart of the game is therefore a critical sensation that you must get the player feeling.

The ease at which player actions fit into the rhythm of a game will affect their enjoyment. It is so important that player actions are not a disruptive force. They should be in-tune and in natural harmony with the game systems. Effectively the player should be the heartbeat of the game, the source of life that makes the system work. The player should have a very tangible grasp of how their input is affecting the game. In game design terms this desirable sense of ‘oneness’ with the game is a direct result of the player feeling an integral part of the experience and certainly not passive or secondary to it.

Empowering the player with rhythm is a massively useful tool in your arsenal as a game designer. You are directly responsible for how the player engages with your game and therefore the connection they feel with it. Creating that sense of wonderment from players really feeling they are bringing life to your game is something special. Rhythm, beat, ebb and flow are universal and essential to the very essence of life. As a game designer you should be considering them with every mechanic you implement.

On talking about his ‘man-cave’ Guillermo del Toro talks about why his immense collection of curious possessions are important to him:

“Everything in the house for me has equal importance whether it’s a rubber toy or an anatomical model, whatever it is, it’s here to try and provoke sort of a shock to the system and get circulating the lifeblood of imagination, which I think is curiosity. When we lose curiosity I think we lose, entirely, inventiveness.”

After seeing his awesome house it got me thinking more about curiosity and creativity.

The delight of investigation is crucial in design. Exploring a concept and finding unopened doors is a skill which as you get older can become harder to find. Today is my birthday, so today of all days I am ever more acutely aware of the lengthening pursuit back to the magical outlook of childhood. But without curiosity the designer’s will to investigate can only diminish. A childlike view of the world is as integral to your success as your professional adult persona. It is only through curiosity where true value can be found.

Through exploring the odd and the peculiar we can escape from mediocrity. So seek out and surround yourself with those who see the world differently, their company will pay dividends many times over. As Del Toro alluded to, imagination feeds off curiosity. An inspiring design can only come from a designer prepared to be daring. Be unafraid to venture into the unknown and come back with something people have never seen or experienced before. Fight back against those who try to pull you back to safety and have the guts to explore where others fear to tread.

Curiosity lies at the very heart of human nature, so if you’re not knocking on that door then why bother? Ask yourself, are you offering anything new? Does your design excite and raise curiosity? Are you creating a need to explore or indeed easing the fear of exploring? You should aim to constantly be both creating curiosity and rewarding it. You must provide the joy of discovery.

It is through experiencing that which is new and odd to you that your brain can really flex its creative muscles. By trying to understand something never seen before, it will generate new insights, unique thoughts and synaptic sparks that the muse inside of you will revel in. Your enemy is the mundane, the well trodden path and the insidious voice inside your head that tells you to conform. Don’t do it. People will see value in the fruits of your curiosity and thank you for engaging theirs.