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Wireless Game Design Games Anywhere, Anytime Greg Costikyan www.ungames.com www.costik.com costik@costik.com Who Am I? 30 Commercially Published Games Online Games Since 1989 First online game with 1m+ users Journalist, Analyst & Consultant Founder & Chief Design Officer, Unplugged Games

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wireless game design

Wireless Game Design

Games Anywhere, Anytime

Greg Costikyan


who am i
Who Am I?
  • 30 Commercially Published Games
  • Online Games Since 1989

First online game with 1m+ users

Journalist, Analyst & Consultant

Founder & Chief Design Officer, Unplugged Games

Consultant & Advisory Board Member, The Themis Group

SF Writer

what we re going to do today
What We’re Going to Do Today
  • 10-11: Wireless Game Design

11:15-12:30: Game Design Theory

2-3: SMS & MMS Game Design

3-4: WAP Game Design

4:15-6: J2ME & BREW Game Design

other stuff
Other Stuff
  • Mainly Phones, Will Touch on PDAs

Should Have Time for Discussion

Presentations at www.costik.com/presentations/

I talk too fast, and too softly

Stop me before I sin again.

what is a mobile phone
What is a Mobile Phone?
  • Device for Sending & Receiving Data

Primarily Geared for Voice

Can Send & Receive Other Data Types

A Small Computersome processing power local RAM typically 128-500k

Limited Mediasmall form factor screen, often b&w input geared to voice calls with some additions sound handling limited

a different game platform
A Different Game Platform
  • Like Developing for 8-bit consoles or early micros

...with tiny screens

Networked from the start!

It’s a Social Device

A New Style of Game: Media Poor, Communication Rich

design to the medium s strengths
Design to the Medium’s Strengths
  • ...instead of struggling with its limits

Network Access the Primary Strength

Gameplay is not a function of whizz-bang graphics

It’s a function of quality of interaction.

Nothing is as satisfying as interaction with other people

other strengths
Other Strengths
  • Portability

why was a primitive platform like Gameboy so successful?


you take your cellphone everywhere

It’s Always There

play anytime you have a moment free

aphorisms to design by
Aphorisms to Design By
  • “Nobody on their deathbed ever said I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.”

--Dani Bunten Berry

“It’s not the motion, it’s the meat.”

--Greg Costikyan

“It’s the people, stupid.”

--Dani Bunten Berry

“It’s a service, not a product.”

--Gordon Walton

what do the strengths imply
What do the Strengths Imply?
  • Short Play Times

it’s a “spare moment” platform

persistent, short session games as well as short complete


Play on Their Schedule, Not Yours

Majestic is an example of what not to do

Persistence: a Key Component for Networked Play

Use the Network

...even for soloplay games

community is vital for networked play
Community is Vital for Networked Play
  • True Online Since the Earliest Games

MUD in 1979

the COLS in the mid-80s

both light & hard-core games today

Current Technology Makes it Hard:

no simultaneous voice-and-data

neither WAP nor J2ME provides intrinsic messaging

latency makes multiplayer beyond head-to-head a problem

how you can support community
How You CAN Support Community
  • Challenges


In-Game Messaging


Web Site

Buddy Lists/Presence

Clan Messaging (UPOC)

design for the hard core
Design for the Hard Core
  • On the wired Internet, two successful styles:
    • Hardcore games
    • Free “light” games

When people paid by the hour, hardcore ruled (and even today, bring in more money)

This is an early-adopter market

Fighting, combat, sf/fantasy—and sports

Stay away from “gameshows” and classic games

the metagame
The Metagame
  • “The Things Around a Game that Affect it”

Community part of that...

Deck building & card trading in CCGs

The baseball season

Metagames lead to obsessive, repeat play

...and your income derives from continued play, not a one-time sale

Leaderboards are a start...

ways to create a metagame
Ways to Create a Metagame
  • Persistence



Ways for Players to Reward Each Other

Offline Activities (deck construction)

Stable Strategies (Chess, Diplomacy)

obvious weaknesses
Obvious Weaknesses
  • Graphics & sound will always lag other platforms

Small (and variable) form factor

  • Many manufacturers & carriers

...and inconsistent implementation of standards

Inputs designed for non-game use

...of course, that’s true of PCs, too...

less obvious weaknesses
Less Obvious Weaknesses
  • Latency is High (1 sec+)

...and likely to remain so

Games were a second thought when standards were established

...but no longer are

...but they still don’t understand networked games

  • No support for simultaneous voice-and-data

...but has to happen ultimately

avoid games that depend on low latency
Avoid Games that Depend on Low Latency
  • Soloplay games (never hit the air network)
  • Turn-based games.
    • Round-robin
    • Simultaneous movement
  • “Act whenever” games.
    • Limited by real time

“Slow update” games.

“Giants maneuvering in the mist.”

dealing with the form factor
Dealing with the Form Factor
  • One, small window on world
    • No StarCrafts or Civilizations
    • Small board layouts fine (e.g, Chess, card games)
    • One “actor” works (e.g., RPGs, side-scrollers)
  • Games that don’t require a layout at all
    • Mainly text, graphics “dress up” rather than are core to gameplay

Zoom levels

coping with ui
Coping with UI

Avoid Text Entry when feasible

Use Menus

Arrows plus “select”

Nethack/Ultima III keypresses

design to the business model
Design to the Business Model

Is it a service or a product?

What drives your revenue?

How can you maximize player satisfaction and minimize support cost?

Does play style dovetail with business demands?

design to the technology
Design to the Technology

Exploit its strengths

Design around its weaknesses

Demonstrate what’s compelling

Don’t get stuck with the preconceived

what makes this fun
What Makes this Fun?

Nobody Knows what Works—You’re free to innovate!

Dev cycle (and costs) are low—You’ll see your work live within months

Someday, soon, a wireless game will blow us away...

Show us something we’ve never seen before

Demonstrate how this medium enables game styles we haven’t seen on consoles, PCs, or in the arcade

innovate or die
Innovate or Die
  • 99% of wireless games aren’t “designed” in any meaningful sense

load of imitative crap

rock-paper-scissors, text adventures, fucking HUNT THE WUMPUS, for god’s sake.

Innovation is what blows markets open

don t be a vidiot
Don’t be a Vidiot

Don’t Be Constrained by video and PC games of the last 5 years

“The game” is an amazingly plastic medium; software is infinitely plastic

look to
Look to...
  • Non-digital games

wargames, RPGs, CCGs, party games, trivia, German boardgames, LARPs, miniatures, PBM, improvisational drama

  • The history of videogames

puzzle games, sidescrollers, “maze” games, Robotron

  • The history of computer games

academic games, Balance of Power, M.U.L.E.

  • The history of online

MUD, multiplayer air sims, “game shows”, Bingo

  • Wonky little areas of innnovation today

RealArcade, the indy game movement, Sissyfight, Cheapass

i m interested in all sorts of games richard garfield designer of magic the gathering
“I’m interested in all sorts of games.”

--Richard Garfield

designer of Magic: The Gathering

innovation doesn t mean originality ab initio
Innovation Doesn’t Mean Originality ab initio
  • “If I see farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before me.”

--Robert Burton

Steal a la carte, not whole cloth

If you can’t make yourself a Parker, Roberts, Gygax & Arneson, Garfield, Baer, Bartle, Miyamoto, Yeo, or Wright

--at least innovate at the margins

you have the opportunity to reinvent the game
You Have the Opportunity to Reinvent “The Game”

for this new medium.

Don’t blow it.

Beer or die.

  • Me:




Wireless Gaming Review: