The Alert Guard

February 9, 2012

So, I was just reading this article on how the perception of game audio quality (with regards to dialogue)  is being influenced by how used people are to the way the dialogue has been written as necessary to suit film as a form of media. Whilst I was reading this, the following paragraph gave me pause:

You’ve all been here: you are sneaking past 
a guard in a stealth game. You accidentally drop down off of a crate and make too much noise on your landing. The guard leaves his patrol and looks toward the crates in the shadows and
 barks: “Is someone hiding over there?”

The idea that someone has to say something, has to give audio feedback with the guards voice seemed like an assumption, a big assumption.

How else could we approach this problem? The player drops down off a crate (Does it really have to be a crate? Also, do we need a ‘time to crate‘ metric for game articles now?) and makes too much noise, how can we feedback to the player that the guard knows something is up?

1. The guards body language changes. First he/she was standing somewhat relaxed, now, the guard has unclipped the holster for the gun and is reaching for a torch to search dark areas (NB, IF there are no darkened areas nearby THEN the guard doesn’t grab the torch). – Visual feedback.

2. The guard starts moving towards the position of the unexpected sound. – Visual Feedback.

3. Other nearby guards see the first guards reaction, one of them (randomise it?) might ask “what’s up?” or one of several varieties on this. The first guard may then ask 1+ to come with him and the others to hold position whilst he/she checks out the noise. – This is a mix of visual and audio feedback, but it’s one that makes more sense in terms of how the guards interact with each-other and the player character.

Also, whilst we’re talking about guards that are more human in behaviour, if the player does a good enough job of hiding then any nearby fellow guards really ought to tease the original guard for jumping at shadows. These guys have to stand around all day with little to distract themselves so any opportunity for banter would certainly be seized upon.

There’s just one problem with the above, if the guard is alone, how can we feedback to the player without these odd rhetorical statements?

1. Perhaps the guard has a modern piece of technology called a walky-talky and actually says into it “This is (name) I’m just checking something out…”

Alternatively, we could give other audio stimuli to the player that has nothing to do with the guard speaking.

2. We dial up the volume/intensity of the guards footsteps as he gets closer to the player characters position.

3. We add in audio so that the player character can hear him/her self breathing as the fear and adrenalin kick in.

4. We can use that old favourite, hearing the player characters heart beat, changing the pace of the beating heart depending on the proximity/discovery-chance of the guard. Though, I think this one might be brute force and should only be used for the most dangerous of searching opponents like a tank, mech, or really ugly lookin’ monster.

5. Also, what about the absence of sound. If a guard is patrolling and footsteps are already accentuated, we’ll know the guard has paused his patrol route by the mere absence of his footsteps tromping along that patrol route.

So, there we have it, options that can eliminate the need for a guard to say “Who’s there?” which many people can’t help but feel is just wrong somehow, assuming they’re paying attention at the time.

Additional comments:

I dislike the way guards in games often don’t have decent equipment to communicate with other guards. We could have a base where the alert level actually matters. The exterior of a base is often patrolled regularly, but the interior guards are fully patrolling only if they’ve been put on alert because the player alerted the exterior guards. It means the player can be rewarded for being sneaky outside.

The guards ability to hear the player should be influenced by other conflicting sound sources. You won’t hear a player dropping off a crate if it happens in a noisy factory.

If the guard spots the player character, his/her reaction should be appropriate to the state of the player character. If no weapons are visible (concealed, no sniper rifle hanging off a shoulder or what have you), then the guard should tell you to come out hands up (animation/control ‘hmm’ there), if you happen to have that sniper rifle out or hanging off your shoulder the reaction (especially in high security facilities) would be more along the lines of the guard shouting “armed intruder!” – Something that is intended to get across to fellow guards as quickly as possible that they’re all in danger.

A Bit of Alright

February 6, 2012

On Friday the 3rd of February 2012 I want to indie game development conference Bit of Alright and since it’s been far too long since I last put something on the old blog (Yes, that’s a word now, quit your whining people who don’t want the English language to change ever ever) this seems like a good opportunity for a resurrection spell or… something…

You can find a full list of people involved in BOA2012 here!/alrightthere/bit-of-alright-2012/members

And now, on to the sessions………

Ian Willey: Baroque Band!/Ian_Willey

Ian is making an app called ‘My Note Games!’ which aims to make learning musical notation easier.

Ian spends this session demonstrating the application, having left a number of (educational quality) recorders distributed in the first few rows.

This is where it quickly sinks in that this is going to be an unusual games design/development conference. The first session and already I’m sat listening to people playing recorders and attempting to meet the note requirements for the app. As the day progresses, the area behind me will be used for a variety of real world games, and a corridor to the left frequently has zombie LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) going on as well.

Richard Perrin: Interactive Fiction!/PerrinAshcroft

Richard uses this session to discuss a number of works of Interactive Fiction that do interesting things with
narrative, he attempts to make it clear that interactive fiction authors appear to be the only group of people
collectively doing interesting things in the area of game story telling. He goes on to mention:

-9:05. You wake up with a hangover, realise you’re late for work and hurry in to give the boss a file mentioned
in an answer phone message. Has a surprise ending where it’s revealed your character had murdered the person
whose house you woke up in intending to take over his life. The game omits key information, and as a result the
expectations of the player are fooled.
-Vespers. The description of the environment changes based on the emotional state of the player character.
(Amnesia the dark descent does this in places too, paintings on some walls appear different depending on the
player characters emotional state, but players only tend to notice either a normal painting or a ghastly
painting, not the emotional state dependency)
-Slouching Towards Bedlam. Player interaction has unforeseen consequences, it’s revealed that the player is
spreading an infection to anyone he/she meets.
-Spider and Web. Uses the unreliable narrator concept.
-The Baron. Casts you as some unpleasant creatures/people, attempts to make you imagine what it’s like to be a
monster. (And in the game, teehee)

Grethe Mitchell: Playground Games
(Twitter account unknown, further contact/website unknown)

Grethe is a researcher, currently focused on childrens playground games and playground culture. Mentions a few
Play is fundamental to childhood development.
They have a low boredom threshold and are therefor always reinventing things, coming up with alternate ways of playing the game (Rules adjustments).
They don’t re-enact or copy things directly, for instance the content from a film will be filtered by childrens imagination.
They favour fairness, games are short and don’t tend to have outright winners.
Many games go somewhat unchanged, but might be updated to reflect modern times, like a game that involves chanting celebrities, betty boop would be superceded by Britney Spears, etc.

Holly Gramazio: Deadly Serious Games!/severalbees

The session was a discussion of a variety of games in fiction which turn deadly (Only 14% of these, at time of speech) are video/computer games. Some of these fictional games have influenced game design, The Last of Shiela inspired The Game, in San Francisco which inspired the film Midnight Madness (Writers note: I could have the order of what inspired what wrong, the point is real world inspires fiction, inspires real world, etc.).

The information on the games in fiction appears to be crowd sourced and can be found here:

There are a variety of different approaches to how these games can manifest themselves in fiction, such as the Last Starfighter, where the best player could save the universe (so all that time playing games wasn’t a waste afterall!). Sometimes the books are intended to be commentary on people, or are about designers. Several common themes:
-Sports from the future
-Fight to the death
-It’s Chess, but…
-What if the crystal Maze was deadly?
-The Game is Omnipresent

61% of the fictional works have one or more characters dying, whilst 42% of all the fictional works games are intended to be deadly.

Ricky Haggett: Asks Game Designers Questions
Ricky Haggett,!/KommanderKlobb
Michael Brough,!/smestorp
Ed Key,!/edclef

A collection of games were shown for the first of two designers, including Glitch Tank. Sometimes the game would be competitive but the players were expected to figure out how to play the game (rather than just having the instructions just handed to them) and leave the players to decide if they want to inform opponents of techniques they’ve noticed. The room is really densely packed so I found it hard to take meaningful notes so I’ll instead recommend you go to

For the second designer we were shown Proteus. It features procedural music and terrain generation, and the music varies based on the surrounding terrain in such a way so as to mix together in different ways depending on how terrain elements combine together.
You can chase after a little frog, which is adorable and very minimal, or you might encounter an owl which if you’re very lucky, will fly across the moon as it goes from one tree to another.
Sign posting/pathing is kept minimal and subtle so that the player is gently guided towards the objective standing stones that cause seasons to change, rather than your typical mystical floating waypoint in the sky that can be particularly immersion breaking.
The player will automatically start running when bees approach, but you don’t have a run/sprint button as this would raise the question “sprint to where?”

Willow Tryrer and Anders Mellbratt: Wake-Up Grandpa!/vvillovv (Not aware of a twitter account for Anders)

The duo admit that they’re still searching for what they are (I always like it when people are honest like that, makes me feel less self concious about similar feelings of uncertainty) and go on to demonstrate three projects they’ve worked on.
1. Nobel Nightcap, Nobel award winners (and companions) were able to visit a variety of rooms at an event. For some of these rooms (There were some unrelated rooms, such as an oxygen room where you could get high on oxygen, another where you could go get drinks). Participants were given a little acrylic brain with an RFID tag and the brain could be used in some rooms to different effects, such as causing the display of quotes from Nobel winners, or would cause other projections to show. The movement around the rooms would contribute to a visualisation that bears similarities to a neural net. They had some problems with the wireless system not having the bandwidth or reach for all the rooms and they were recoding parts of it during the event. Oops.
2. Naked Baby Water Racing, A Wii hack, players would compete with eachother, running on little paddles on the floor in an attempt to win the race.
3. Wake Up Grandpa, a game where you have to shout at a microphone to get the character to jump and reach beers or avoid grandmas. It was a little buggy as you could get boxed in by a platform above and in front of you.

Cliff Harris: How to get out of bed and finish a complex indie game!/cliffski

I knew as soon as I saw the title that this would be a talk that hits close to home for me personally. My getting out of bed has drifted further and further into the afternoon during the past few weeks…

Cliff explained how your job (That is, games development or office work) is not hard – Hard is being a soldier, building bridges, these jobs have major risks to life and limb, unlike working in a home or office. You’re not competing with just the UK, you’re competing with India and China, any place where poverty (or, paraphrasing, variances in currency values & exchange rates) is a problem which gives those people the drive to push harder than those in richer nations.

“To make indie games for a living you have to be in the top 1%.”

Several productivity tips were given:
-Keep a daily log – Keep writing down each thing you’ve done as you do it, if you get interrupted it’s easier to see where you are and where to continue
-Mental Cache
-Immediate Start next day
-Instant Check-in, bonus points you can copy and paste things from daily log and other notes into source control software

Try to think from the players perspective, don’t use programmer excuses for not doing things. The player doesn’t care how many times you’ve re-written the engine code.
Will it make the game better?

Gratuitous Space Battle versus Industrial Light & Magic, not GSB versus games.
“If you must compare to games, compare to games 2 years from now.”
Customer doesn’t care about budgets.

More tips:
-Noise Cancelling Headphones to block noise distractions
-Egg Timer for blocks of productivity where looking at the Internet, twitter, etc is off limits.

Cliff sees himself as competing with studios which have really poor efficiency, devs not starting a working day until 10AM, wasting time playing games as ‘research’. He also gave several additional technological/programming tips:

Use a stable platform (Do you really need to use the latest release of DirectX… REALLY?)
Only change one major tech per game.
Do not pointlessly rewrite.
Always skip a tech generation.
If it isn’t broke…

Then followed up with some more productivity tips:

You can learn to get out of bed early.
Do not think about it (just do it)
Don’t delay, make it automatic
NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming (which cliff describes as hardcore)
He gave a name for us to research – Steve Pavlina

Have a dedicated office space, especially if you have kids/cats.

Make sure you have good equipment, more than one monitor, a good office chair…
…Described it this way, if a chair lasts for 5 years and you get £40k a year, 1% of 200k is 2k. Not that he was saying spend 2 grand on an office chair, rather he was making a point about how you can think about it.

If a pricey piece of software saves you time and/or effort, it’s probably worth the expense.

You still need 1 to 2 years to make a big polished indie game.
Yes it is worth it to make bigger games, 2 times the effort can equate to 10 times the sales.
Yes it’s hard, but not as hard as being a soldier.

95% of people reading this will not do it (And that’s ok but…).

Alastair Lindsay: Psychological effects of audio!/AlistairLindsay

Alastair is currently working on Introversions Prison Architect.

Alastair starts by showing us what happens to water subjected to a 111Hz Sine Wave then goes on to mention some techniques he uses.
(Note, my numbering for 3 may be iffy, I think I lost track of a slide somewhere, somehow)

1. Adding Mood and Adjusting Consequence
Alastair showed us how the execution room in Prison Architect will have an additional ghostly growl added to it after you’ve used the execution room for the first time. Something to really set you on edge and make you think about the consequences of your decisions/actions in the game.
2. Sound to reinforce a mood or set a mood
Possible choices for button noises were discussed, such as bleeps, bloops, ticks and tocks. With the question of what to use for different purposes, for selection of sub menus and action buttons (like placing buildings) the sound of rustling papers was chosen as if it suggest that the prison architect is reaching for a form or planning document for any possible action. It comes with the interesting consequence that, if you’re panicking
and the mouse cursor is flying around the interface across various buttons, it sounds as though the architect is also panicking, as pieces of paper fly around the room – “Where did I put that form”, etc.
3. Subtracting/Adding Humanity
The decision was made to attempt to humanise the prisoners whilst dehumanising the guards. For the guards, walkie talky ‘tch’ noises were being mixed with other elements (Like bleeps and bloops) to try and make the guards sound more like robots than people. There was a sense of uncertainty in Alastair with how well the demonstrated audio was working, I got the impression that was one audio element that was due to go through a few more iterations yet.
4. Stimulus and Response, which sound represents intent to murder
Alastair showed a cut scene like sequence in which the intent to murder of one soon-to-be-convict was represented by the sound of cocking a gun. This was soon followed up by a sequence where the is-now-a-convict is about to be executed leading to another moment of intent to kill, Alastair put forward the notion of using the same cocking a gun sound not for pulling the execution lever but rather to use the sound when reaching for the

With the last session concluded, I finished off by spending a couple hours at Paddington train station, wondering why the heck I booked a late train home despite knowing far too well that I’m too introverted to just go to a pub and sit there for a while like billy no-mates, which is probably what would have happened had I been around to hear which pub folks were heading on to.