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Month: February 2016

Designed Language

I was thinking about language the other day and realized there’s a beautiful example of a system that is partially designed with intent, and partially grown through chaotic iteration. Most language has a design, but mostly has grown organically through a history of centuries and centuries. Anyway, I got curious about purely designed languages, such as Esperanto, and found an entire list of designed languages. There are two that stood out to me: Toki Pona, which is designed to be as small as possible, and Ithkuil, which is made to express human thought as accurately as possible. Where Toki Pona can be learned in days, a thought expressed in Ithkuil can easily take hours to construct.

The […] goal is to attempt the creation of what human beings, left to their own devices, would never create naturally, but rather only by conscious effort.

There’s an interesting notion there, design as opposition to organic and uncontrolled growth. I’m not sure whether I found anything to really dig at here, but I do know reading through the Wikipedia page for Constructed Languages is fascinating.

SUPERHOT and ripples

There’s one mantra that has guided me over and over and it is that every structural action you take causes ripples. I don’t want to go as far as to say I believe in the butterfly effect as much as 2015 horror title Until Dawn did. What I do believe in is that facilitating things pays off in the long run. If you worry that there are not enough developer meetups in your town, create one. If you want a certain game jam to exist, organize it. If you think games should be in gallerys, contact a gallery nearby. There’s no reason not to try, and it might just ripple further than you think.

A few years ago, fellow Vlambeer Jan Willem decided he had gotten bored of pretty much all AAA First Person Shooters, and that indies needed to make some First Person Shooters to create innovation. That led to him organizing the first 7DFPS in 2012, a seven day gamejam focused on the FPS genre. That, in turn, led to the jam being held again the year after. That jam saw a group of Polish developers creating a prototype of a first person shooter that played with time and movement. That first person shooter got popular enough that the developers decided to pursue it as a commercial project. That project came out today, and it’s named SUPERHOT. And it’s fantastic. It’s also priced at $25, which is awesome. Who knows. Maybe that’ll cause ripples.

Rabbitfood

Adriel and I were visiting Campagne Cafe in Seattle at the recommendation of a friend & got to talking about salads when Adriel ordered one. We ended up talking about how salads are referred to as ‘rabbit food’ by people in the US sometimes, and I thought it was interesting as the Dutch will call it ‘konijnenvoer’. The two of us being huge etymology fans, but the etymology here seemed obvious (did you know the English word “rabbit” also comes from Middle Dutch robbe?) – what caught us this time is that the term is usually used in a negative way, while salads are generally a healthy and good thing to eat.

The solution is obvious: since salads are a generally healthy and often low-calorie thing to eat, it triggers the holier-than-thou backlash in people who are not eating a healthy salad. The same effect exists when it comes to vegetarians, people on a diet eating small portions, and people that don’t drink. The salad one is extra devious when it comes to traditional and outdated gender expectations: it’s most commonly employed by men, and societal expectations nudges women to put more effort into looking good and thus getting into (delicious) salads, it’s mostly employed against women. In other words, men generally expect women to look slim, but they also poke fun at them for using diets or employing more considerate food choices to achieve that. That’s kind of messed up.

I asked a few female friends to see if they ever felt made fun of for eating a salad, and it ended up being a thing that was almost unanimous. I was told it’s a common annoyance in business and work environments, and in fact, some mentioned, it’s so common that men will make fun of ordering a salad, that some of them have started having salad parties away from men. Turns out that healthy food also tastes great, and that people generally feel great about being allowed to eat their food without being made fun of.

I, for one, have decided to just not poke fun at what people order in terms of food – whether it’s quantity, type or place. I hate it when people make ‘witty’ comments about me not drinking, and I realized phrases like ‘rabbit food’ kind of do the same to people that like salads. Next time, I’ll order some sort of salad too, because chatting with my friends sure seems to suggest they’re awesome.

Fire Emblem: Fates & Localisation

One of the most interesting conversations happening in games right now is the controversy surrounding Fire Emblem: Fates, a Nintendo game in the popular Fire Emblem series. While the game originally launched in Japanese markets in June 2015, the US version of the game came out today (as of this writing, there is no mention of a EU release date), and it’s already one of the most controversial launches in quite a while. The controversy is focused on the localisation of the game.

The goal of localization is to create an enjoyable, non-confusing play experience for the end user by paying heed to their specific cultural context. The suspension of disbelief is of utmost importance to the process; if a player feels as though the product was not meant for them, or if the localization creates confusion or difficulty in comprehension, this may break immersion and disrupt the player’s ability to continue the game.

In Fire Emblem Fates, a number of changes have been made to accomodate US audiences. To reflect the PEGI-12 rating and US culture, some dialogue has been changed to avoid reference to drugging a character and gay conversion, a mini-game in which your character – the leader of a warrior force traveling the lands – could pet other characters has been cut, some character personalities have been made to fit Western story archetypes and obviously, the game and audio have been translated.

These changes have particular parts of the internet up in arms about the purity of the game as art being lost. As they see it, the game is art, and as such should not be modified from how it was created originally, regardless of anything. Others argue that localization and game development are both expensive, and that as such an entertainment product should be optimized to be as profitable as possible – to ensure future games can be made.

What I do know is that Fire Emblem: Fates would’ve not existed without Nintendo funding it, that developer Intelligent Systems worked with Nintendo on creating and localizing the game through localisation studio Nintendo Treehouse, and that there is no reason to believe the developers feel their intention has been modified or thwarted.

This comes back to a larger issue: audiences believe they know the developers of their games – while very commonly, they have no idea. Somehow, it seems completely reasonable to people on the internet to claim ‘the purity of the games’ intent’ has been modified’, while the only people that can really say so are the developers and the publisher. Seeing the publisher made the choice to localise the game and signed off on it, I think the ‘purity’ argument doesn’t hold. If the average user doesn’t notice that the localisation changed things from the Japanese version, it seems like the localisation was a success. Those who want to play the game ‘pure’ can import the original Japanese version.

That doesn’t leave me ultimately conflicted: I believe a large strength of games is that it reflects the creators’ culture. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to reconcile that with localisation, but I do believe that having access to localised content while funding new projects is better than not having access at all. In an interesting move, groups of fans that didn’t just go and yell at things have created patches that allow the legally bought version of the game to be ‘patched’ to use a fan translation and restores the mini-games.

Only Nintendo has a good idea of how the controversy affects their bottom line, and what the majority audience of Fire Emblem: Fates is. I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles these issues in the future.

Devil Daggers

Sorath’s Devil Daggers released today and it is fantastic. It’s fast-paced, it’s brutal and it’s relentless. What is most striking about how relentless it is, though, is not the relentless action – the type of overwhelming mayhem Vlambeer uses in our own games to force flow in the player –  Devil Daggers is relentless in its identity. More than anything, it has become clear that independent titles that manage to relentlessly adhere to their internal style are amongst the only ones that really stand a chance. Games like Hotline Miami, Undertale, Her Story and The Witness are all games with their own flaws and strengths, but what they have in common is that they are succesful, and that they refuse to be anything but themselves. They have a sense of identity, and they understand that identity from start to finish.

I argued the other day that auteurship might have its potential pitfalls too, and this all seems to loop back to games and trees. Games grow an identity, and it’s up to the developer to recognize, amplify and communicate that identity. If you’re working on a independent game, see if you can find anything that looks, sounds or plays similar. If you can, you might want to think very carefully about where the identity of your game is.

And if you haven’t picked up Devil Daggers, you should do so.

The disappointing ending of Firewatch

[stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”32px” new_window=”no”] Content warning: discusses Firewatch spoilers

Campo Santo’s lovely debut title Firewatch has released to both critical and financial success, and yet the internet seems to be split on one specific element of the game: the ending of the game. During the course of the game, the player assumes the role of Henry, a man running from life and a marriage falling apart by taking a job as a firewatch in a national park. Through a walkie-talkie, he speaks to his supervisor Delilah, who is a mountain away. Throughout the course of the game, the two get personal and flirty, and something of a romance blossoms in the subtext.

As the game progresses, it sets everything up for Delilah and Henry to meet. The problem to a lot of people is that they never do. During a raging forest fire threatening the entire area, Henry discovers that an oversight made by Delilah might mean she is partially responsible for a young boy’s death, Delilah is devestated, but says she’ll wait until Henry arrives at her watchtower, so they can finally meet. Before he can, though, she has been lifted out by rescue chopper. When he pleas with her to meet up later via the radio, Delilah tells him to go back to his wife.

That’s disappointing. Games aren’t meant to end on a disappointing note. Since we identify so strongly with the avatar, going for an impossible objective in your final stretch is pretty much the biggest fuck you the game could give you in terms of game development. You fail. Henry is dependent on Delilah, looking to meet finally her, and you can’t. Delilah leaves and decides things are better that way. She doesn’t want to meet anymore.

And you know what? I love it. It’s brilliant. Delilah doesn’t want to meet. Life sucks sometimes. Deal with it. I’m glad a game can be that, too. That people can leave feeling upset, incomplete, frustrated, and thoroughly sad.

So to everyone complaining that Firewatch has a disappointing ending? I’m glad you liked the ending.

Ludoludologic dissonance?

The Witness has an interesting design premise: it’s a game that comes from a strong and singular authorial vision. However, having played through many hours of The Witness so far, I would posit that that strength is also its biggest weakness.

The strengths are easy to discuss: The Witness was created over seven years purely around Jonathan Blow’s vision of the game – creating something strongly consistent and focused.

The weakness is more subtle: while The Witness is absolutely magnificent at certain times, I felt myself feeling uneasy most of the time. For some reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Jonathan Blow was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder as I played, nodding appreciatively every time I solved a puzzle, and shaking his head disappointedly every time I took a minute too long.

In the case of The Witness, very often I feel it was created entirely for the creator. In many ways, it’s amazing that a game like it can exist, and just for that reason it’s worthwhile playing it. But at its core, the game is dissonant with itself. It’s not ludonarrative dissonance, but ludoludologic dissonance. It’s a game based around auteurship, but it can’t avoid that games, ultimately, have to be about the collision with the player, too.

Red Barrels

Speaking of Firewatch yesterday, this tweet by the amazing Jane Ng went out a few days ago, and I had strong feelings about it. Jane Ng is an artist on Firewatch, which was made by the around 10-person strong San Francisco studio Campo Santo. A few months ago I gave this talk at Develop 2015, which should explain why.

My basic argument is that, unlike traditional wisdom says, actual honesty with your community is important to your community health, humanizes you as a developer and ensures audience expectations of games and game developers remain realistic. Our industry has pampered our users for far too long, while most of them are capable of acting like adults that can deal with a healthy dose of reality.

Those that don’t, don’t have to be part of your community. The transaction of buying a game entitles a player to the game, and not to participation in your community forums or discussions. They’re not entitled to you being nice just because they bought a product. You are not a hostage of the few dollars they spent on your game, ensuring that whatever nonsense they say, you should smile and nod. They spent those dollars on your game, not on you having to ensure they can shout in your forums.

I’ve started calling the traditional notion of community management the “Red Barrel” strategyWe’ve traditionally been taught that every member of the audience is a Red Barrel. If you touch it, it’s liable to explode and destroy you and everything audience Other Barrels around itself, some of which might be other Red Barrels. Any member of the audience can write a scathing review, drum up support on some online forum and cause you some discomfort – the metaphorical Red Barrel.

That traditional view implies we view our audience as things in the world without agency, though – Other Barrels. When you start considering them as player characters with full agency in a multiplayer simulation, the whole situation changes a lot. Now, we’ve got one player with a “Red Barrel” perk that might or might not self-detonate on being touched, and a lot of other players walking around. Just the notion that there might be players that self-detonate will shape every players behaviour, leading to all players having a healthy dose of distance, skepticism and pro-active aggression towards each other.

That’s why I prefer to honestly engage with posts like the one Jane responded to, or, metaphorically, engaging with any “Red Barrel” as soon as I’ve cleared the environment. At worst, you’ll find a Red Barrel, and it’ll detonate. That’ll cause you discomfort, but it’ll also let your community know Red Barrels will be taken care of and that you’ll engage with them as adults with full agency. At best, it turns out the player wasn’t a Red Barrel at all, and was just being conditioned by the potential presence of other Red Barrels. In that case, literally everybody wins.

Doctors

Being half-Egyptian, the ongoing and unstable political situation in Egypt is extremely worrying to me. This AP article has a great short description of what’s going on, but the quote I want to talk about is this one:

The standoff between policemen and doctors suggested that Egypt’s powerful security forces may have overstepped their limits by clashing with one of the country’s most respected professions. On Friday, the Arabic hashtag “support the doctors’ syndicate” was trending on Twitter in Egypt. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a prominent local rights group, said the doctors’ assault was “a reflection of the level of police abuse of authority these days.”

Many third-world countries around the world still have very strong connotations of family honor, and Egypt is no exception to that. In the mind of Egyptian parents, there are three professions that have status: a Doctor, a Lawyer or an Engineer. For women, being a Nurse or a Teacher are considered acceptable too. There’s tremendous pressure, whether imagined or real, for kids to adhere to those aspirations to ensure a good income and support their family and their future families. Game development can luckily be argued to fall under engineering, although it’s not always accepted as such, so most kids with aspirations there simply refer to it as pure computer science.

It’s a pressure I don’t really know an equivalent for in most Western culture, but the pressure is common enough that it’s become a meme (a م?) amongst kids of Arabic descent. With how powerful memes are in spreading local culture, it seems that there might be a push to more diverse jobs and more creative jobs, which – sadly – the economical and political situation in Egypt currently does seem to not afford. The Arab Spring was largely fueled by the internet, through memes and Facebook and digital communication, and the new Egyptian regime has learned from its predecessors mistakes. I’m anxiously looking forward to an election year, and while I’m fearful that’s when things go sour, I’m hopeful Al-Sisi will do the right thing.

If you’re interested in the Egyptian revolution of 2011, I can recommend the English-subtitled Netflix documentary الميدان, which powerfully shows an on-the-ground perspective of the Egyptian revolution from the perspective of Egyptians – people speaking Arabic, living in Cairo.

What am I arguing anyway?

[stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”32px” new_window=”no”] Content warning: discusses US abortion debate

If you’re on the internet, you’ve probably noticed it has effectively split into two camps. One believes the internet should be a place where people get treated with respect, where disagreement is handled properly and where people are generally held to the standards of decency you’d expect in real life. The other group believes the internet’s power is that you can say whatever you like, even if that is awful or has no purpose beyond trying to hurt others.

I see a lot of people outraged, and then people outraged about people being outraged. The solution, however, is “simple”: fix the social imbalance or issue at the heart of the anger, and the anger goes away.

One of the clearest examples to me is the pro-choice versus anti-abortion debate in the US. In the United States, there’s an almost unbelievable discussion about whether abortion should be allowed at all. In the Netherlands, that topic has been cleared since 1984. Guess what happened? The anger and outrage, the protests and discussions? They went away. It turned out the women who wanted abortion to be a right were being held back by unfair laws, and the opponents were speaking on behalf of embryo’s, fetuses, and God.

The other day, a US pro-choice group was extremely critical of a Doritos commercial.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH2LsFcWOFY

To someone from the Netherlands, getting upset over this commercial feels ridiculous – but we haven’t lived with the requirements of debate, and the oppression of laws regarding abortion for over 30 years now. To most people in the Netherlands, that discussion is not part of their life. In the US, hundreds of millions of people are directly affected by the outcome of that debate, and the slow progress of freedom. What is and isn’t important to get upset about is so dependent on perspective, that my golden rule has become to check what side I’m on: those arguing their personal freedom, or those upset on behalf of something else. Am I arguing that I’m upset, or am I upset that others are? One is valuable. The other is a waste of time. Freedom isn’t one big thing. It’s lot of little things.

Infini-button

My favorite ‘laws’ in life are those that seem remarkably simple & obvious, but that have a lot of unexpected implications. One of my favorite is a Human-Computer Interaction law called Fitts’ Law. While there’s a lot of specificity you can discuss, the basic version of the law is as follow:

The further away and the smaller something is, the more difficult it’ll be for the user to point at it.

That’s it. If you’re using a mouse, and you’re trying to hit a tiny button half across the screen, it’ll take more effort than it’ll take you to hit a giant button right next to your cursor. The law extends far beyond that, but that’s the basic gist of it. While I’m not going to jump into the math behind it too much, in a mathematical way, it was originally written in 1954 as:

ID = log2 * ( ( 2 * D ) / W )

ID is the Index of Difficulty, or basically how hard the task is. is the distance to the object you’re trying to point at, and is the width of the object. For W, consider an infinite line from your current position – for now let’s use the mouse or cursor as an example – through the button you want to point at and all the way to the edge of your screen. Any point of that line that touches the object you want to touch is part of W. That means a vertically oriented button you’re trying to point at from a point underneath it is going to be easier to point at than a horizontally oriented button.

I was thinking about Fitts’ Law today because I was discussion Destiny’s fantastic menu UI with a fellow designer. You see, Destiny uses Fitts’ Law in a very clever way – by increasing the functional size of the items you want to point at. What’s important to realize is that Destiny’s buttons actually aren’t as big as they seem – they’re much larger than that. When you move your cursor towards an interactive element, your cursor ‘sticks’ to them and slows down, at least until you’ve passed well beyond the object itself. That means that the functional size of those buttons is extended. Because of the slowdown, the width of the button is virtually increased, and thus the difficulty of pointing at it reduced.

In Windows, you can find another really interesting implication of Fitts’ Law in the shape of the Start button. Since the button is in the lower-left corner of the screen and the screen is a hard bound, the Start buttons’ width has become functionally infinite. There is no way to overshoot it, so any fast movement with enough distance to the lower-left corner will always land you on the Start button. It doesn’t just sit at the edge of the screen – it sits in all the non-existent space beyond that too. When you look at good UI design, you’ll notice important elements tend to be aligned to the edge of the screen. Apple OSX then combines both the edge of the screen and a literal size increases in their Dock.

There are many more fascinating implications of Fitts Law, but what I always appreciated about it as that after your first moment of ‘of course, this is so obvious‘, there’s always that moment where it suddenly clicks, and you start seeing a new system in the world. Suddenly, it’s impossible to not see. To me, that’s the beauty of simple laws.

Essence Statement

If you’re working on a creative project with multiple people, think about your essence statement. An essence statement is a single sentence that explain the core value and purpose of your product. It is not used for external communication like a product pitch is, but is mostly for internal communication in the team. It doesn’t describe the mechanics or aesthetics as much as it discusses what the goal of the project is as a creative product.

Nuclear Throne is a top-down shooter that’ll stay fun to play for us as creators.
LUFTRAUSERS is a game about being the best fighter pilot in the world.
Ridiculous Fishing is a game with an infinite and positive feedback loop.
Super Crate Box is a game against camping.

Every game is different, and the thesis for each game is different. Being able to communicate why you’re making your game, or what feeling you’re trying to effect in the player, will help a lot with figuring out what your goals are. Is your essence statement more of a feeling – like we did in LUFTRAUSERS – you’re probably going to want to focus on things that create that feeling. What makes a fighter pilot feel like the best? Skimming over the water, avoiding ridiculous amounts of bullets, taking out overwhelming odds, airobatics and stunts. In Ridiculous Fishing, our focus was elsewhere entirely – we tried to create a multi-stage feedback loop that was rewarding and positive regardless of level of play.

Communication is hard enough without a clear direction, and I find essence statements help me lock on to what we’re creating.

Tile

When I arrived at Dallas airport I decided to buy and try a Tile. They’re nifty little gadgets, basically tiny square pieces of plastic you can attach to whatever thing you own. After you activate a Tile, your phone will be able to monitor the distance to the phone within Bluetooth range, saves the last GPS location the Tile connected to your phone, and you can trigger the Tile to make a sound. Finally, Tile’s connect to any phone running the App, meaning that even if something is very far away, other Tile users will update its approximate location for you.

It’s clever design – not using the Tile’s GPS but your phone’s GPS means that all the Tile needs to do is broadcast a low-energy signal that the phone can collect. That way, the battery can work for a year before running out. I think the thing that I appreciate most is how it’s solving the issue with an inverse and almost playful solution: if you want to know where something is, you don’t need its exact location: the distance to where your phone last noticed it, and some playful testing of what direction to move in, should be enough.

I was happy to have one in my backpack last week in Arizona, as I couldn’t find where we’d parked the car when we visited the Grand Canyon. The Tile in my backpack led me there perfectly.

Strong & Weak

[stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”32px” new_window=”no”] Content warning: discusses Gamergate

One of the most fascinating political ‘public relations’-plays in the world is something I like to call ‘strong and weak’. It’s something I first noticed in the continuing coverage of the conflict in Israel & Palestine, but once you spot it it becomes very clear very quickly that it’s used in all sorts of political situations. It effectively is used as such: we are ready and capable of overcoming this obstacle, but this obstacle is impossible to overcome. It presents the user as both strong and weak at the same time, sometimes contradicting itself, but usually using two seperate perspectives to get the advantages of both.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is used by both sides to justify violence. The Israeli miltary forces effectively have to ensure to the world and themselves that they are extremely prepared, and surely will be the victor in any armed conflict. At the same time, they have to emphasize how vulnerable their position is, and that their defenses are easily penetrated by terrorists. The violent Palestinian factions that oppose Israel need to emphasize that they are capable of eradicating Israel, but also that they are fighting a foe that has superior weaponry and military. The reason is simple: people won’t follow a losing faction, but they’re more likely to have sympathy for a losing side. Nobody feels bad for the winner, and nobody celebrates the loser. You don’t want to be on the losing side, but you can’t make a difference for a winner anyway.

It’s a similar thing you could’ve spotted in Gamergate. First, they hated and attacked just one person. Then they got too big and loud and things weren’t just bad – they looked bad from a PR perspective (yes, everything that interacts with an audience has PR, including things like that) too. Then it was two people and they had room to grow louder again. They grew too big, and then it was half a dozen people. Then it was all the games media. Then it was all the social media. Then it was all mainstream media. Then it was a conspiracy that included the US government. Eventually they settled on a perceived global culture of political correctness. You can trace that development – they needed to appear strong enough to change things but also weak enough that you can make a difference. So as the harassment increased, and things started looking bad bad, they grew too big to need more support. So an extra threat got added. Conspiracies appeared. First they were small, and eventually the conspiracy theories included the US government.

It’s an interesting dynamic to keep in mind, and a fascinating one to look for. You can see it currently in US election rhetoric – mostly on the Republican side, but also on the Democratic side. You can find it in Islamophobia everywhere. It’s in every good Kickstarter pitch. We can make this a reality, but we don’t stand a chance. It’s a proven tactic, a subtle and powerful one. It’s is also a delicate one – go too far one way or the other and you need to escalate the opposite one.

Duality is an extremely powerful way of communicating with crowds, which behave very different from individuals. This strong-weak duality just happens to be an example that I’ve come to spot easily.

Squarebowl

+ 393 days =

= $11,231.

$11,231 / 393 ≈ $29 per day for charity since the first tweet that would eventually lead to Squarebowl 2016.

Throw your ideas out there early. See whether you can get people on board. If your idea is any good, you’re an important element to the execution. Execute on the ideas that feel good.

Time & Money

For work on the PlayStation build of Nuclear Throne, I need access to a PlayStation 4 devkit, a physical device much like a modified PlayStation. There’s one set up at our office, and I’ve ensured I can access it from anywhere through the internet via a VPN connection, which (simplified) makes a computer from anywhere in the world pretend it’s connected to the PlayStation devkit directly. Sadly, my VPN connection from Los Angeles to Hilversum, the Netherlands was slow. While it was definitely functional, it wasn’t great and only refreshed the output from the PlayStation once every 4-6 seconds. That meant that a lot of bugs would be hard to spot on the first try. Assume a Nuclear Throne build takes about 2 to 4 minutes, sending the executable over the internet adds about a minute, and I might have to restart the process a few times to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

I did some quick math with how much time it would cost me, took Vlambeer’s hourly income, and basically figured it’d be a sound choice to fly home to work on the actual devkit. Time is worth money too, and the amount and stress that’d come from running the VPN connection isn’t worth it. So, I’m flying 11,000 miles – 5,500 both ways – this week because my VPN is slow.

 

Pitching feelings

I spent some time today guest lecturing at USC, and one of the most common pitching errors I come across is the idea that you have to primarily pitch mechanics. Sure, you can pitch what the player does in the game, but that is far less important than what that makes the player feel or achieve. Think about that when writing your pitch, and avoid the usual hyperbole, quantifiers, numbers, subjective words and common positive words or qualifiers without meaning.

Bad Info

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned the Dunning-Kruger curve before, the psychological effect of illusionary superiority by relatively unskilled people. I usually discuss the effect in terms of imposter syndrome, but that’s just one of the many implications of this simple law. Another implication of the curve is that if you place a lot of relatively unskilled people together, you create an environment in which a lot of information is exchanged as being true, regardless of its veracity.

This is something I’ve seen to painful effect in many environments: I’ve seen it at many universities, but also in game development forums, or extremely popular Facebook groups. When all opinions are equal in a creative process, you don’t necessarily get the best result: you get the safest result. If the majority of participants are either uninvolved, unaffected or unskilled, you get way worse than that. If they’re all of those, it’d be a miracle to get something awful regardless of intent or effort.

The best way to avoid bad information is through reckless collision with reality, or smaller and more specialized communities. While these communities definitely create a sense of security, and a sense of others getting it, the reality of game development is often far harsher. Reach out to game developers you look up to, or experiment with social media. In the end, it’s hard to make bad choices, but really easy to make uninformed ones. Check your information by seeing if you can find the opposite position argued, check your assumptions by rigorous playtesting with the intended audience, and check who is giving you what advice and what their credentials are.

Having no information and having to figure it out yourself is a much better spot to be in than being bombarded with and following bad info.

Middle of nowhere

My idea of distance as a person raised primarily in the Netherlands is entirely not applicable to the majority of countries in the world. Travel two hours as the bird flies, from my apartment, in any direction and you’d better know German, French, English, or whatever the fish near the coast of Norway speak. My inherent understanding of distance is that two hours of driving is far, and my mother used to pack lunch boxes for a huge undertaking like that.

The Netherlands, regardless, house almost 20 million people – making the country incredibly dense. The distance between most cities can easily be traversed by bike in the time of a normal driving commute in many countries. To many Dutch people, the Middle Of Nowhere is a place that takes more than 20 minutes to reach by bike from a major city, small villages that have limited access to the public transport system.

So even though I’ve driven across the US multiple times now, I am still fascinated by the real Middle Of Nowhere. There’s nothing. No human settlements, nothing beyond the roads and powerlines and the occasional advertisement. At night, you can drive for hours without encountering a single soul. You can see the stars against the deepest dark.

Someone built these roads through the Middle Of Nowhere just recently. I wonder if that was scary or lonely.

La Equis

I was curious about a giant, red, X-shaped monument we drove by on our trip to Los Angeles. Situated on the Mexican side of the border near El Paso/Juarez, the construction easily grabbed our gaze. I spent some time researching the monument, but couldn’t find much information beyond that it was made by Sebastián and controversial for its excessive costs. It’s apparently named ‘La Equis’ or simply ‘Monument X’, and the artistic statement behind the monument is almost impossible to establish through the internet. Some say the ‘X’ symbolizes the creation myth of the Five Suns. Some say it’s a reference to the diverse genetic background of the Mexican people. Sebastián himself is said to have said it’s a reference to many things, but also that it refers to president Benito Juárez, who changed the official spelling of Méjico to Mexico.

That last notion fascinated me, because I’ve been told both spellings are still being used today across the planet. Searching for that just gave me a whole lot of ‘Mexico o Méjico’, and the Wikipedia page for Benito Juárez warns me that a lot of his life’s story might have been exaggerated by the then-ruling elite.