This was another week of working on funding applications so I don’t have a lot to share when it comes to Kana Quest. So instead I just wanted to talk about a design tool that I use to analyse new games when I play them. Just a heads up, this is just a lens to use when looking at video games. Just because a game looks bad with this lens, it doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have redeeming qualities and vice versa. This is just a way of looking at games that will allow you to see different strengths and weaknesses within games.

So what is this technique? I call it Game-Player Relationship Analysis. Basically, imagine the game you are looking at is a person. And what does the relationship that you have with this person (game) like? For example, the relationship you have a Pinball machine is similar to the one you have with a street performer. They entertain you for a few minutes and you give them a little bit of your spare change. Whereas a claw machine in your local shopping mall is closer to a shady figure playing a cup and ball game. They promise you a fair game of skill, but the reality is you are never going to win. The relationship you have exists entirely to con you out of your money.

In both the examples above I use this Game-Player Relationship Analysis to contextualize the differences of two outwardly very similar games. And more specifically how the two games try to obtain the player’s money. But how money is exchanged is only one type of relationship a game can have with its players.

  • Money Exchange Relationship
  • Time Exchange Relationship
  • Mid Interaction Relationship
  • User Defined Relationship

The Money Exchange Relationship as discussed before, is about personifying how a game goes about obtaining the player’s money. They can be like street performers who ask for a few minutes and a few cents. They can be like conman with the cup and ball game. They can be like a drug dealer who gives you your first hit for free, but then expects you to keep paying up to get your fix. They can be like your favorite worker at your local bookstore; you pay them 20-60 bucks and they give a book for you to read, consume, discard and repeat the process.

The Time Exchange Relationship is basically how the game treats the player’s time. Is the game respectful of the players time? Does a game demand a large time investment on the part of the player to make the relationship work? If yes, how does the game make it up to their players? Does the game send you constant notifications to remind you that it’s still there and that it needs your love and affections non stop throughout the day and throughout the night? Does the game punish you for playing on your own time? Does the game ask you to revolve your entire life around it? As a quick aside, recently a lot of the big publishers as well as free mobile games have been making a push for “live services” for all their games. And the thing that worries me about these games is that the Time Exchange Relationship that these games have are quite toxic. If you had a partner that demanded you spend a third of your day with them, destroyed your things if you didn’t spend time with them, and kept messaging you throughout the day regardless if you wanted alone time or if you wanted to see your friends, you would call that an abusive relationship. But these “live service” games do a lot of these things as standard, without considering the ramifications this can have on the player.

The Mid Interaction Relationship is how the player and the game interact during gameplay. For example Kana Quest was intended to have a Mid Interaction Relationship that mirrors that of a good teacher. A teacher that points out your mistakes but doesn’t punish you for them, and that masks boring rote learning with something more interesting. Of course whether or not I achieved this, is not for me to decide. But some games are like story tellers (Visual Novels) and others are like tour guides (open world games). Some are like strict personal fitness trainers constantly pushing you to get better (Dark Souls). Now technically the Mid Interaction Relationship is separate from the Money Exchange Relationship and the Time Exchange Relationship  but often there is an intersection between these categories. Especially with F2P (free to play) games where the gameplay is interrupted by adds or by running out of energy. And of course if a game is large enough to have a lot of desperate elements, the relationship you have with one of those elements can be different to the relationship you have with another of those elements.

The User Defined Relationship is where things get weird. See much like people, not everyone has the same relationship with the same person. For example the relationship I have with my mother will be very different from the relationship you (the reader) have with me (the author). See the other categories care about personifying the way that games interact with their players. This cares about the inverse. It is about personifying how the players interact with the game. This category is weird not only because everyone’s relationship is slightly different, but because the relationship changes with time. I used to play Pokemon to be taken on a wild adventure with the world’s coolest tour guide, but now I play Pokemon to catch up with an old friend.

So how can we use this for making better games? Well the long and short of it is to try and craft the most effective Game-Player Relationship possible for the game we are making. Have an idea of what sort of person you want your game to act like. Make conscious design and business decisions to achieve this. And of course play test with a lot of people to see if your game is interacting with them in the way you want. Don’t be surprised if play testers make Mid Interaction and User Defined Relationships that you didn’t anticipate. Just make sure that these relationships are positive.

If you find using this technique, your game sounds like an asshole that nobody would want to be around, then its quite likely that your game has a problem. And much like people, it’s okay if your game isn’t perfect. Sometimes business forces you to have a Money Exchange Relationship that’s a bit shitty, but you need to be able to make it up to your players elsewhere. Case in point, one of my personal favorite games is Magic the Gathering. It’s Money Exchange Relationship is awful, but the Time Exchange Relationship, Mid Interaction Relationship, and User Defined Relationships are all so good that for me its worth it.

However if you find yourself in a relationship with a game that constantly tricks you out of your time, and money, only to then not give you an experience worth having for your investment, then its time to dump that game. It doesn’t deserve you, and you deserve better.

 Anyway that’s the Kana Quest Dev Blog for this week. Hopefully by next week I will have finished my funding application and I can show off some new work to you all.  But before I go, have some completely unrelated Steven Universe fan art, because who doesn’t love a pretty picture. Anyway until next time, have a great week.pinkDiamondHighRes

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