Tag Archives: quicknote

QuickNote: Wrapping Up “MetaDating”

23 Feb

So “MetaDating”, the YouTube series hosted by Sean “Day[9]” Plott and game developers Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard, is apparently coming to a close.  Not going to lie, I’m feeling tragic and roughly anarchic about the whole thing, and there’s some impressive lobbying going on to keep it.  But in the event that March’s cast ends up being the last of this talented triumvirate, I’ve started drawing up some thoughts about the premise of their series: “How do video games depict romance?”

Early caveat: I’m not a gamer.  The last video game I played was a retro-fitted version of “Dr. Mario” designed to burn off college stress and I’ve studiously avoided MMOs like “World of WarCraft” because I KNOW it would become a huge time suck that I would be helpless to curb.  I also get really upset by interactive experiences that go badly: “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were traumatizing.  It’s like there’s no safety barrier between the experience and my sense of self.  But I’d speculate that commenting on these game by watching playthroughs is roughly equivalent, at the level of experience, to reading a novel, so it’s from that perspective that I’ve started commenting.

If the seven episodes of “MetaDating” so far reflect the scope of romance-themed games at present, there’s not a lot out there.  I’m wondering whether that has anything to do with the gender bias of game developers, but don’t know enough to speculate intelligently.  But during the series, the hosts played two Japanese dating simulations or visual novels* (Hatoful Boyfriend, Katawa Shoujo) and one North American corollary (Judith), one AI-driven story system (Facade), one “triple A” action game (Catherine), two indie art explorations (Passage, Loved), and the sui generis “The Sims 3: Late Night”, and expressed throughout the series the idea that they’d run out of game types in which romance is the central theme fairly fast.

According the the guys, romance is thematically “dangerous territory” in games, which I originally took to understand as a financial risk in that it’s not a theme that typically interests gamers.  But based on the games themselves, it seems really difficult technically to create an experience of love and romance that feels “real”, or at least realistic.  The only really popular game the guys played was “Catherine”, which is distinctly split between plot and a big puzzle game.  And “Catherine” deals specifically with one part of romantic relationships (anxiety over commitment) that’s easier to replicate mechanically than, say, falling in love.  Your nervous system can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by the repeated failure to solve a puzzle and the pressure to virtually get married.

Narrative is a big theme in this series.  One of the hosts, Sean Bouchard, expresses an ongoing interest in narrative game design, and romance-themed games seem to cater more towards that touchstone of coherence than games that require less emotional attachment.  He introduced GNS theory in Episode 6, and romance-based games (at least the ones they played) seemed to rely by default on narrative largely to the exclusion of game and simulation.  The single Sim game, “The Sims 3: Late Night”, was by far the least realistic-feeling game (Bill, rightly I think, compared the characters to alien pod people in human hosts), even though it had the most concrete characters.  Simulation hasn’t, apparently, reached the point where it can naturalistically render a human being.  The visual novel “Katawa Shoujo” was widely perceived by hosts and viewers to be the most compelling emotional expression of love, but it was also the most restrictive in terms of player agency, and the least gamic.

To be continued…

*They used the two terms interchangeably, although I’m told there’s a difference in emphasis between the two.

QuickNote: Career Planning in a New Field

4 Feb

The problem with career-planning in a field that’s still in the process of defining itself is that no single graduate program covers what you want to do: at least half of every established program is filler.  And unless you’re a genius with limitless self-financing, it’s not possible to break in without the launch that a graduate program gives you.  Every internship of interest requires applicants to be in a degree program, and that’s understandable: it’s an easy way to ensure basic skills.

Let the brainstorming begin!

QuickNote: Knowing Where You Excel

23 Jan

Today I participated on a large review panel (20 people or so).  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  What is uncommon is that the head of the board had to leave midway through and I was volunteered, elected, and deputized in her place.

“You have to be careful because sometimes your vanity can cause you to take the wrong job.”  So said Benedict Cumberbatch on the importance of reading the script before taking the title role in Sherlock.  The traditional model of corporate leadership has held that the best [fill in the blank] step up to become managers of their former positions.  But of course, it’s been widely realized that the skills to be a great [blank] and the skills to become a great manager are unrelated.

I can say without exaggerating that on an objective level, I am a great panelist.  Strong attention span, calm and inviting demeanor, a discerning intellect and (evidently) an uncanny ability to ask the right questions without revealing a point of view.  But I hate being in charge, because the head of the panel has totally different priorities.  Essentially, your job is to keep the investigation on course – it’s not just a managerial, but a centrist position.

In this case, it didn’t matter much: a one-day panel means playing that role for a few hours, and I’m okay with that.  But I was highly conscious of how different it felt to be just “good enough”.

QuickNote: Dealing with Demographics

8 Dec

Today I got my first good look at YouTube Analytics for the webseries.  There’s all sorts of fun statistics to work through (NERD!), but I’m trying to focus specifically on the aspects that are the most useful to the client: who is watching, and how they’re watching.  (Monetization falls outside the scope of this project.)

The issue I’m puzzling out today is how to deal graphically with some unexpected demographics.  Before starting the project, I expected that a parody show about superheroes that runs on YouTube would primarily attract males, age 25-45ish (Gen X and Y).  Mom and Pop are also entrenched in geek culture (“nerd famous”?), so they seemed likely to see some crossover from fans of comics, graphic novels, manga and video games.  Kind of the “Wreck-It Ralph” crowd.

The gender demographics aren’t too surprising: 65% male viewers to 35% female viewers.  (Need to figure out whether that’s lifetime or per video, and what percentage of those are unique vs. repeats.)  But within those gender constraints, the age graphs look radically different.  I.e., the male graph follows a bell curve, peaking around 35-44, while the female viewership peaks at 18-24 and then drops off a cliff (f(x) = 1/x where x>0).  The difference is pretty stark.  However, if you average the values by age group, weighing them proportionate to the total percentage of the population, the curve becomes bell-like again.

There isn’t time on this project to create formal user personae or conduct tests.  But with such a stark difference in viewing populations, I need to figure out a meaningful way to describe those behaviors.  The clients might want to factor them in if they decide to include advertising, for example.

QuickNote: Wireframing Tools

3 Dec

Question for experienced UX designers: what was your first wireframing tool, and how did you conclude that it was the right place to start?

So far, I’m using pen-and-paper and whiteboards. They work great!  But the production values are less than stellar.  And whiteboards don’t scan too well.

An informal survey of job posting for UX designers reveals the Big Three: Microsoft Visio, Axure, and OmniGraffle.  I like the reviews for OmniGraffle, but it’s Mac-only, and my newbie budget cannot support the Mac transition right now.

There are numerous excellent-looking cheaper systems like HotGloo (in September, UXMagazine.com rated it the WireFraming Champeen of the web-tool class) and Balsamiq.  But at this point in my career, for credibility’s sake, I feel like I’ve got to start by mastering one of the Big Three.