From HTML5’s limits to a different gamification

I’ve recently given a talk on “Html5 game and gamification from the trenches” at Codemotion. Here are the slides on Slideshare:

The core of my argument goes this way: HTML5 as a mobile platform effectively supports a very limited range of technical choices for animations and sounds. This can be frustrating, but it is not impossible to build games that are fun and gamified solutions that are effective using limited means.

HTML5 developers approaching game and gamification should become aware of the need of putting a considerable effort in storyboarding and mechanics design, in forms quite different from those required by web applications. I propose two different definitions of gamification, that IMHO should be kept as separate when discussing this topic.

This is my definition of Black Hat Gamification:

Black Hat Gamification
Definition. Adding points, badges, leaderboards & incentives to an existing application in order to increase addictiveness.

This is my definition proposal for White Hat Gamification:

White Hat Gamification
Proposal. Gamifying means creating an application that defines a meaningful narrative through game design elements and… it is not a game (though it should be fun).

To get more in depth about gamifications, see A Quick Buck by Copy and Paste and other writings by Sebastian Deterding to learn more about this. You can find me on twitter here.

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Humor in videogames

Plants and zombiesIn designing a videogame, using humor stunts is a great temptation. There is a core problem with that: funny things are funny once, and videogames are made of loops and must allow for several game plays of the same game. [Read more…]

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Rock, paper, scissors as a game mechanic

imageIf you play strategy war games, you will have met this mechanic: swordsmen beat pikemen, pikemen beat cavalry, cavalry beats swordsmen. This simple rule can make a game hard and interesting.  To learn more:

rock, paper scissors on Wikipedia

– a detailed presentation of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors

– how to win at it every time

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Videogames didn’t kill boardgames

game on

… we’ve found a place for radio in a world full of televisions

It may be that videogames are a way to create more players, and then convert them… 6 Board Games That Video Gamers Should Play

board gamesAlso, from a game design point of view, “When you buy a board game what you play is the original concept precisely as it was in the designer’s head”.

P.S. See this post on how book shops can live in the age of digital books: What are bookshops for today?

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A JavaScript game prototype: The System

Here you can play a game Pino and myself developed in JavaScript + CSS3 for “modern” browsers i.e. HTML5.

the system board

Works fine on the iPad, and its ideal when played by several human players. The game design is not mine, comes from a board game, and the porting / transformation is not complete yet, but checking this game could be a practical way of learning the basics of game prototyping using very simple JavaScript.

This game is particularly simple as it is turn-based; now I’m creating a very simple JavaScript framework for real time games – will publish that too soon.

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Prototype a game in 48 hours: 7 easy tricks

A video from 2009 by Kyle Gabler which is still inspirational:

This may come particularly handy if you ever participate in a Global Game Jam.

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Engagement by Design talk – and game mockups

This is the talk I’ve given about “Engagement by Design” at Better Software 2012:

Relating to game design and mockupping, I hope this talk shows the conceptual density necessary in game design. This reinforces the argument for mockupping, because of the complexity of the matter at hand; a nice quote I heard from @AntonioVolpon is

“build the least viable prototype”

(and a mockup before that) – an improvement with respect to “build the minimal viable product”.

All the links quoted in the talk are collected in this booklet.

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Narratives and game mockups

I’ve recently taken part in a preparatory meeting for a game design course, and my teacher / colleague Giovanni Mattioli was wondering about the relationship between narratives and game mechanics. Giovanni is an experienced and sharp comics / graphic novel scripter, so I’ve put these links together for him and anyone who may be unaware of the Pandora’ vase that this topic is in game design. I end the post with a few considerations about mockupping games with extended narratives.

There seem to be two cases that should be distinguished:

1. narratives that constitute the core of the game play – e.g. in classical adventure games

2. narratives as one of the dimensions of game play experience – where narrative is a form of feedback.

Thinking about story scripting, the simplest and most direct relationship is the one between storyboard and classical adventure games; but narrative adventures today are a small fraction of the field, and one among many kinds of relationships between stories and games.

Studies on the theme

Some references:

Games can and do exist without narrative:

The Narrative vs Mechanics Circus:

The Chemistry Of Game Design:


imageHere I tried to write about what is the role of storytelling in video games:

Storytelling and video games

Narrative and games: examples of a complex relationship

An overview updated up to 2008 of games where the narrative dimension is most relevant is here:


To get a feel of the complexity of the possible relationship, significant and innovative examples that come to my mind are Braid, Heavy Rain, Sword & Sworcery, FTL. FTL is an interesting case, as that narrative could play such a central role in a roguelike with permadeath seems unlikely, but there you go (hear this podcast for more on this topic).

10000000 game Another clear example of the combination of a narrative with a mechanic that seems as far as possible from a narrative perspective is in 10000000 where actually they work just fine togehter.

In another direction, games induce narratives; a particular example is “Things I Ate in Skyrim”. Yet another and very recent update on the theme is this, on writing Dishonored: In Dishonored, Sometimes The Story Is What You Don’t See.

The relationship between narrative and the game design process

Coming now to the theme of this blog, game mockupping, and prototyping, when we consider the narrative aspect in my experience here we have a problem.

First thing I would consider where does our game idea come from? A story, a game mechanic, a character, a visualization? A game idea can start anywhere, all those are good starts, but the problem may come in the combination. If the game is based on a core game mechanics like shaking your phone, adapting a storyboard to the mechanic may be problematic if not damaging. Mockups can readily express the structure of the game main and eventually minor loops, but are structurally not apt for representing linear storytelling in a compact, useful way.

The linear progression of a narrative is hard to concile with level design, as it is better realized as a continuously connected relationship, and the segmentation givel by level design creates discontinuities that need specific story design – e.g. see Limbo.

In cases where you have a game where narrative plays roles beyond that of a form of feedback, the only way to solidify the resulting game play seems to put together a working prototype; atmosphere requires concept art, music too is important… we see how centering on narratives quickly leads to expensive games even at prototyping stage. And never lose sight that games are always about fun, and not about literary expression… . Good luck.

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