Thursday, January 26, 2006

Boing Boing: BBC report on UK gamers from 6-65

Boing Boing: BBC report on UK gamers from 6-65
Very interesting article.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Another "Games to Move" idea

Another idea I had over the weekend for games to get kids (adults?) moving would be to have a collectible card game which allows players to play cards that force each other to get up and perform an action. If this could be incorporated into the game mechanics, it would be even better.

For instance, suppose the game were similar in theme to Wizards of the Coast's popular CCG Magic: The Gathering, where players deploy creatures and spells to do battle. If, instead of using preset rules to determine the outcome of such battles, the game used a "rock-paper-scissors" sort of mechanism, but which required full-body motion rather than just a couple of fingers, then there'd be some stand-up-and-jump action for each contest. The game could be made more interesting by adding more options than just rock, paper, and scissors. (Note that with a webcam, this sort of gameplay could even be extended to video games.)

We tinkered with the idea of a CCG for the Digital Desert Library project, but it never really got off the ground. One way in which this CCG idea be used would be to allow kids to "find" new cards as they move through our various health and nutrition websites and complete tasks. The NeoPets casual gaming site uses this mechanism to reward kids for trying new things and exploring the site. Other things could be triggered to unlock cards, such as completing online activities, participating in the step tracker, or even finding them in various monster lairs in the dance mat RPG. In addition, we could give unlock codes to teachers to reward in-class participation.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Health Aspects of Game Research

As we begin our "moving through gameplay" project (hey... could that be a good name?), it is clear to me that we must include some exercise physiologists. I have some concerns about the health of our subjects... for example, we make our game consultant kids take their shoes off before using the mats... are we putting them at risk for shin splints? Should we require cool down and warm up before using? When we were just looking at it as game play, my biggest concern was using a big fan to lesson the smell of sweaty pre-teens... now that we're looking at it as exercise, I think we have bigger responsibilities.

I'm also interested in the health of any "older" participants. I really want to do a research study with placing DDRs in offices and see if we have an increase in health in our workers at the U. Is this kind of exercise the best for them? I guess we'd better get some experts ;-)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Phil Steinmeyer

Through SlashDot, I found a nice little article by Phil Steinmeyer about taking a casual game's art concept through to completion. It's for a casual word game he recently released called Bonnie's Bookstore. The article is a good read, and includes screenshots of discarded designs, which I think is a nice window into the development process.

However, the real gold wasn't in this particular article. His blog tracks things of interest to educational / casual game developers, including recent articles on board games, site traffic to casual game portals, the size of the casual games industry, and the death of children's software. I'll be subscribing to this one.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Gaming off the Hershey's Kiss

Today, a few activities converged into another game scoring idea:

  1. In talking with a nutrition researcher at Purdue (we're partnering on the project) about seeking grants to prevent obesity through game play, she encouraged us to make nutrition education an objective of game play as well. Imagine a game where you not only physically move to control game play, but control what your character eats in the process, thus learning the energy in - energy out balance.
  2. I burned 375 calories dancing to "In the Groove" DDR game tonight. In fitness mode, it tells you how you are doing at hitting the right steps (I'm not very good, incidentally), but it also shows with every step (even the wrong ones) the calories you are burning. I noticed immediately that the jumps burned more calories than the single steps, and when a complex set of steps came up that I fumbled, I made sure I jumped the wrong steps two at a time, rather than simply step them wrong one at a time. It was inspirational to see my calories burned climbing, even though I was only a "decent" dancer.
  3. We reviewed the interface on our In and Out O Meter interactive tool as part of the project today. The concept is that the user can pick a food (say, cheeseburger") and then pick the activity (like "washing the car") and see how many minutes she would have to wash the car to burn off the food.

Here's the idea: a DDR or other game that allows you to:

  1. Enter what you ate today. It would total up the calories, fat, etc (also helping user read and use nutrition labels)
  2. Provide activities to do with the dance mat (dancing or otherwise) and provide compelling game play and motivation
  3. Show a running total of calories burning while you are moving
  4. Check items off the list of what you ate as you move. Imagine seeing those Hershey's Kisses you ate on the drive home just get scratchd off your list while moving and grooving.

There are some great ways to create lifestyle changes through gameplay... increasing activity and conveying knowledge.

Dance mat RPG?

As a follow-up to Barbara's post, I'd like to reiterate one of the ideas we had at the Guitar Hero party yesterday that tie directly into this topic.

For kids that can't perform well at the intense rhythm games, it seems to me that a game that still requires fairly constant motion on a dance mat could be programmed. Although it wouldn't get the "rhythmic cardio" benefits, I think we could offset that by making it a long-form game that takes a long time to play, and which has considerable replay and/or long-play value. Santa vs. the Snow Monsters wasn't a rhythm game, but people who played it said they were pretty tired when they were done, so I think we have some evidence that you can really burn calories even when it's not a rhythm game.

I've actually been thinking a lot about this, and I'm thinking we should do an experimental game that explores this. I'm thinking about a multiplayer networked game using the RedOctane dance mats, in the style of a typical immersive RPG. Players could use the dance mat to navigate around the environment, and when they get into a combat, they use the dance mat to do their attacks.

Players could choose character classes in the traditional sense (fighter, thief, wizard, whatever), which would translate into different modes for fighting. "Barbarians" might just hammer as fast as they can on a single direction button, for the young kids without a lot of coordination. "Swashbucklers" might be able to do left-right "feints" or back-forward "lunges". "Assassins" might have a golf-game like power/technique bar for making critical strikes. And "Wizards" could do DDR-like sequences of steps to cast spells, and the longer "perfect" run they make, the more powerful a spell they cast. Other motion mechanisms could be added as needed.

As the characters "level up," they get more moves they can employ, or they can do more attacks before the monster fights back, or they get more attempts at critical hits, etc., all of which would let them take on tougher monsters as a reward, but would also require even more motion out of the player to execute.

This sort of setup would allow kids to not only try different modes of play, but there would be a mode of play that could be played by kids with a wide variety of rhythm and coordination ability, and would scale the motion up the more immersed in the game they become.

By making it multiplayer, players of different skill abilities could play together (unlike Guitar Hero or DDR, where both players have to play at the same skill level), which increases the commitment to the game, adds a social aspect, and would allow for cooperative gameplay - you could have a "party" of adventurers going into the caverns who cooperate on a common goal, rather than having head-to-head competitive play, which is the case with virtually all rhythm games.

I think we could prototype a game like this in a week or two. I'd like to get one or two more RedOctane mats if we do this, so we could have a party of 3 or 4 working together.

How else can we get gamers moving?

I've been paying special attention to creative ways to put input into games... something that goes beyond a simple joystick, controller or keyboard. We seem to be on the cusp of a lot of really great innovations. The DDR dance pad was the first great "step" (oooh... bad pun, I realize) in getting game players up and moving. However, we have yet to see any great commercial games using the controller for something *other* than gaming (which is why we're exploring that).

I'd really like to see a dance pad used for non-dance or rhythm-based games... something where the compelling game play is compelling game play, and the pad is just what you use to navigate and move within the game. (My hope is that would get the gamer who is self conscious about moving using the game... this type of gamer may never do DDR because of performance anxiety).

My new favorite game, Guitar Hero, does an outstanding job replicating the experience of playing a guitar, because the game comes with a guitar-shaped controller that you play. It has really started us thinking about other ways to get gamers "moving".

Currently, the input tools seem to be the DDR pad, the camera (eye cam for consoles, for example). I have big hopes for the new Nintendo controller as well.

Coming soon to the online gaming environment is picture-cam-based basketball. I look forward to testing this in the lab and seeing if it really gets gamers moving.