Archive for the ‘Game Design’ Tag

Reflections on Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games – 01

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

So, I’m reading Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games and loving every bit of it. Well, almost every bit of it. Most of the bits. Anyway, while reading the chapter “Players as Moral Beings” I was struck by this passage:

“Becoming a player is the act of creating balance between fidelity to the game situation and the fact that the player as subject is only a subset of a cultural and moral being who voluntarily plays, bringing to the game a presence of culture and values that also affect the experience.” (63)

I had to read that a couple of times. Even after I continued to navigate the rest of that chapter, the “subset of a cultural and moral being” kept echoing in my head and becoming a point of departure for other understandings and considerations.

Sicart uses Michel Foucault’s ideas about power to frame the experience of playing a computer game. The player doesn’t exist until they engage with the game on its terms, and the game’s potentiality becomes actualized only when the player engages with it. The agent and the object exist separately, but the object creates the “player” and the player actualizes the object into experience.

I’ve started to to form some ideas about how this system of understanding could relate to teaching (which I think of in gaming terms anyway). The students are my players, each of my classes is a game or maybe a level inside of a larger game. I communicate with my students in real time, but the system that I have designed communicates simultaneously. I have been incorporating ideas that I have learned from game design into my teaching (shifting modes of engagement to maintain a steady flow state, introducing and integrating implicit and explicit goals, etc) and now I am starting to see parallels in the ethics of gaming and pedagogy (willing submission to particular power dynamic, those relationships having potential to create and inform). The information feels obvious but understanding how to articulate the exchange gives my participation in it a greater sense of agency (real, imagined, or otherwise, I don’t know). I want my students to see how they are participating and for them to consider why and to what end they submit willingly. I wonder how games and contact can present and challenge the mechanics of power.

That’s all for now.

Dynamic Projection Mapping in Unity

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I created an application for the dynamic control of a very particular piece of realtime generated projection mapping for an in-process theater performance that is being created in part at OSU’s ACCAD.  The purpose of this application was to demonstrate the potential look of a visualization and also to be able to manipulate the imagery on the fly.  Once the show is out of process and into performance, there will be far fewer controls, or many of the controls will be hidden once the look of each scene is set.  My familiarity with using programs like Isadora and Qlab to create projection design for live performance gave me insight into what kinds of options would be useful to an operator.  These are some stills from the application:


Oculus Gaze Maze

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

**best viewed in full screen on a stereoscopic display. (i.e. Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display)**

Short demo of a prototype I’m working on. The player uses the direction of their gaze to guide a sphere through a maze. A gallery of back-lit creatures watches as the player navigates the maze. They cheer when the player finds themselves in dangerous situations.

I’m interested in developing a game that responds to and provides consequences for different sets of player actions. Will the player seek out danger to appease their bloodthirsty audience? Will they navigate towards treasures to accumulate wealth? What might happen if they look away from the action entirely, allowing their curiosity to get the better of them? The player gets to decide how to “win” the game, which differs from the game imposing an arbitrary value system (time is valuable, race against time; possessions are valuable, collect things; curiosity is valuable, discover things; persistence is valuable, replay the game; etc).


Thursday, May 7th, 2015

I made this game as part of Alan Price’s Computer Game Art & Design II course at Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design.  It came out of a series of explorations in Unity’s capabilities and also in using sound to create movement.

The game uses microphone input, but has a “virtual microphone” for the mute, the shy, or the hardware-less.

The game is still very new, so any thoughts, observations, criticism, suggestions, encouragement, etc are all welcome.

Unity plugin install/allowance required:



Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Forward/Inverse: Gaming cross disciplinary methodologies in dance and digital animation

I created this application for my final project in Motion Capture.  There are credits in the application, but special shout out to Caitlyn Trevor for her cello performance.  🙂  It actually made debugging a joy to hear her playing over and over.

The concepts are all inside the in-game documentation (as well as a bonus video of me dancing in some sweet mocap digs).

Have some fun blending different dance improvisation modalities and learn a little something about digital animation while you’re at it!

As always, you may need to install or allow plug-ins to play this Unity application:



procedural animation in Unity

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

I was experimenting with procedurally generated objects and animation in Unity this weekend.  Using the scripting language C#, I instantiated a field of game objects based on a prefabricated object that has a couple of physics components and a trailing effect.  I then translate the objects in a pattern based on some randomly generated variables and allow them to collide with and effect each other.  The animation is slightly different every time, but always falls within the bounds I’ve set up.

Procedural Animation with Unity from John Luna on Vimeo.

Eroding Puzzle: Life Metaphor

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

     I’ve been working on designing this spatial reasoning puzzle.


     The puzzle pieces rotate and fit together in a bunch of different ways, forming one or more whole shapes in a number of configurations.

     So, I left the puzzle alone for a couple of days and worked on other things.  Last night, I was having a night alone in my sock-monkey onesie and thinking about ways that my life (events or the whole) could be reflected as a puzzle.

     First of all, what happens after the “win state” of a game?  The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden and William Pugh, 2013) had me thinking of ways to make a game that is a game, but that has no conclusion.  Conclusions are so Disney.  Life doesn’t stop when you succeed at something.  It’s way more complicated than that.

     So, what if the puzzle changed the longer you played it?  What if the more you try to force the pieces together, the less likely they are to fit together at all?  (memories, relationships, etc?)

     My spatial reasoning puzzle now randomly erodes the longer you play it.  At first, a variety of possibilities.  At last, a narrow set of limitations.  Right now time is what erodes the game state, but I want other inputs to change it as well.



     I don’t know if want to implement a win state.  I kinda like that you just push the pieces around into some configuration that you find aesthetically pleasing and then enjoy it before it erodes.

Games aren’t always (just) fun

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Effective Gameplay in Dark Souls


     I hate Dark Souls (a video game whose 2011 release can be blamed on From Software, Namco Bandai, and Hidetaka Miyazaki). At every turn, the game punishes you for playing it. And you play it over and over again. Your ex, who is terrible at playing video games, spends every waking moment with his hands gripping the controller and his eyes glued to the television. The game causes arguments, shame, guilt. You hate each other’s addiction and you despise your own jealousy, either of the game or of each other. And you play it… over and over again.

     I hate Dark Souls, but the gameplay is undeniably engaging.

     Within Marc LeBlanc’s categorization of game pleasures, Dark Souls easily satisfies all of the “8 kinds of fun.” The vast, immersive game world is filled with sensory delights. Challenges abound. The course of action throughout the game builds and erupts to unforgettable dramatic effect. The game also allows for extensive player expression, though most choices are ultimately superficial; you have to kill things, you have to die. This in concert with my initial paragraph speaks very literally to LeBlanc’s “masochism” category of fun. Even fellowship can be found in Dark Souls, both with non-player characters and in the interactions with other gamers’ ghostly avatars. All of these are only symptoms of effective gameplay, though. What leads us here? What elements of the gameplay produce this myriad plethora of “fun”?

     Looking only at the mechanics, or the play aesthetics, or even the player strategies (“dynamics” as LeBlanc words it) is not enough to define “good gameplay”. As Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman write in their book, Rules of Play, “… game play itself is a kind of dance that occurs somewhere between the dice, pieces, board, and the rules themselves, in and among the more rigid formal structures of the game.” I would add “strategy” and “player experience” to that list of atomic pieces that game play dances between. There we find the game play, but still, what makes the game play effective? What makes it so engaging?

     In Dark Souls, struggle is the game’s bread and butter. Everything in the game is unforgivably lethal and the danger increases exponentially to your avatar’s strength. Almost immediately, the game presents you with an insurmountable challenge. In that first deadly encounter, you die and you die until you discover (on your own or in a strategy guide) a circumspect path that trains and leads you to (more death and) your triumph. Triumph becomes your goal, your almost singular driving force. The game is merciless and you savor every modicum of progress you acquire. That sense of achievement is the requisite goal found in all games worth playing. The (merciless) struggle is what transforms “achievement” into “triumph.”

     Struggle is only meaningful if you can feel your potential to conquer it. I believe that sense of agency can be inspired by transparency of player effect on the game world. If the player understands clearly how their interactions operate within the world, then those interactions (though endogenous, according to Greg Costikyan) have meaning. I swing my sword, I see its arc, and when a game object falls within that arc my sword makes contact. If my sword’s swing only occasionally makes contact within its arc, that could be confusing and frustrating (unless explained by some kind of dodge mechanic). In Dark Souls, when a tossed fireball connects with a giant skeleton, a red bar indicating the enemy’s health appears and you see the bar recede and a number appears above the bar indicating the fireball’s damage. You perform an action and you immediately see its effect. When done elegantly, this kind of transparency of structure makes for a richly satisfying experience that contributes to good gameplay.

     Games can be agonizing, grief inducing experiences but can still contain incredible gameplay. I will always hate Dark Souls (almost as much as I hate the Mako vehicle from the first Mass Effect game) but I stand by its place as one of the greatest games of its time. Good game play, I believe, does not necessarily induce pleasure, but it must be engaging.